“Whatever happens tomorrow, we had today. And I’ll always remember it.” ~ David Nicholls, One Day
– Telephone booths and taverns, flowers, and the best little pastries! –
I loved every minute of London. I loved the beautiful buildings, the crazy busy streets, the red double-decker buses, the little taxi cars, all the flower-boxes in the windowsills, the sprawling parks, the Buckingham palace guards, Big Ben, the taverns on the street corners, Globe Theatre, and the Rivoli Café in the Ritz Hotel that was so posh, even the lobby receptionists had doormen. How could you not love that city? It was infinitely dear, yet it had the edge of a busy, sprawling city. It was charming, historic, quaint in certain neighborhoods, but with a hint of the darker side in twisting narrow streets of East End.
I didn’t even mind the swarms of people crowding the streets in Picadilly circus. The hustle and bustle of city life, even packed with shoppers and tourists pushing and moving fast, was exciting and a little heady. We found what has got to be the cutest store in the world next to a delicate patisserie across from a garden filled with daffodils. “Are you finding everything that you would like?” asked the storekeeper. “Are you looking for a gift for someone?” “Yes,” I thought, “Can you tell me how I can package up this entire store and bring it home with me?” There were aprons and wallets and a tiny perfect pink cup with ballet dancers on it for a lucky little girl somewhere with big dreams of becoming a dancer.
– The Ritz Hotel! Eat = the best little eat-and-go place with such good sandwiches, Trafalgar square, and cafes and flowers = can’t get enough –
We wandered into the bakery next door, and inside, families and couples sat at red-cushioned lattice chairs, talking and people-watching and taking little bites of chocolate and hazelnut and vanilla cakes, from fruit tarts balanced precariously on small tea plates – the tops piled high with berries , figs, and cream. Black-aproned, harried waitresses skirted the small round tables, picking up plates and doilies here and there, stepping carefully round a small boy who had made a daring escape from his seat and over to the pastry window to point at something chocolate. Steaming cups of hot chocolate and lattes, sprinkled generously with cocoa powder, foam slipping off the sides and onto the delicate Patisserie Valerie pink doilies on the plates, were carefully balanced on an oblong tray, wobbling slightly in the crook of an arm, whisked away and placed in front of the mother with her little girl – big eyes marveling at the whipped cream spilling from the edges of the cup.
“Which one is your favourite?” I asked the cashier at the patisserie, pointing at the many perfect little tarts cooling on the windowsill. “This one, I like,” he motioned at a rather unassuming one hiding in the corner, with a crumbled topping powdered slightly white with sugar, “it’s apple and cranberry.” A box was constructed, the tart gingerly slipped in, then quickly packaged and placed in a bag. “I hope you enjoy it,” he said, smiling. “Cake in the morning,” remarked my friend, as we sat in the park, a few birds around our feet hoping for a crumb or two, “we’re starting the day off right.”
We took a walking tour led by an Irish lady, who fearlessly brandished a bright orange umbrella, waving it about as she told us story after story about the city. “Whenever you’re lost and can’t find the group, just look for the orange Mary Poppins umbrella,” she told us, as we power-walked through the Westminster quarter. “Yesterday, I lost half of my group in Trafalgar Square. Nobody could find me. Tears were shed. But we were reunited thanks to my orange umbrella, and all was well.” She had us all in stitches the entire time.
So many funny stories about the history of the city, the Irishman who managed to break into the palace and regale the queen with a drunken story, the poor tourist who accidentally touched one of the Palace Guards and had the scare of her life when he yelled at the top of his lungs, “STAND AWAY.” Her husband caught it all on camera, apparently. “This is my favourite lamp-post,” she said, flinging her arms around a short, black post emblazoned with the Westminster quarter crest and two interlocking golden C’s, just outside of an important office building. “The governor of the Westminster quarter met Coco Chanel at a party in this important club,” she pointed at an impressive building across from the lamppost. “And after the party,” she went on, “they took a little walk, and at the end of the night, the governor got down on one knee, so enraptured was he with Coco Chanel, he offered his hand in marriage, right then and there.”
“Well, she turned him down, of course,” our guide continued, “but still he persisted. But she flew back to the States, and he stayed in London, pining after CC. And when he learned that she was going to be coming back for a visit, he had every lamp-post in the Westminster borough emblazoned with two interlocking C’s. For Coco Chanel. She still turned him down, however, telling him that ‘In your life, you will love many women.’ And she was right. He went on to marry six different women. But the interlocking C’s are kept on all the lamp-posts as a symbol of his love for her.” So romantic…
After the tour, we walked and walked, looked at all the fancy window displays, stopped for cookies, took the quintessential telephone booth picture. We tried to find M&M World, which was impossible. Somehow, we managed to walk every single street around M&M World except for the one that it was on. When we stopped in for directions at a souvenir shop by Her Majesty’s Theater, the curt storekeeper who was not having it, waved his arm ambiguously toward a block of buildings next to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, stating that it was “behind those buildings.” He tilted his head slightly forward and to the right. “Which building?” I was confused. “Over there. Just keep walking,” he said, as he turned back to the cash register.
And so we did exactly that. We walked and walked and finally, there it was. “The Sweetest Attraction in London,” proclaimed the lit-up sign from the entrance. If you were to open a gajillion bags of M&M’s all at once and breathe in very deeply, that would best describe the smell of M&M World. Now imagine that you have just released a bunch of kids, all hyped up on sugar, into M&M World and let them run around going crazy. That was the level of insanity in this place. It was so overwhelming. So we stayed long enough for a picture with an M&M wearing a British Guard hat and one with the wall of M&M’s, and then we turned right around and went in search of fish n’ chips.
– Trafalgar Square (above) and Big Ben! –
Just outside of the metro station to Picadilly Circus, my friend Colleen spotted an all-green ticket stand emblazoned with a Wicked poster, standing in the middle of the square. The sign hanging from the top broadcasted “Half-Off Tickets.” “Want to just go see how much they are?” she asked me, half-smile of possibility. So we ran over and asked for: show tonight, anytime, anywhere. What’s the cheapest? Which one can we see? “Well, I have tickets for Wicked, tonight, 7:30. There’s Phantom too. But Les Mis is out,” the cute ticket vendor went on, “I’ve got two lots of three right now in Wicked. Want to give it a go?” Brief moment of indecision. None of us had seen it. A flurry of back-and-forth. When else would we be here? Let’s do it. The magic of spontaneity.
And oh, it was SO GOOD. The music and the costumes and everything about it – the really solid story-line, the adrenaline of the stage, the energy and the excitement of the performers. The moment right before the production begins, and it’s all hushed in the audience. The lights have gone out and there’s a buzz of anticipation and delight. Some of the songs are still stuck in my head.
I didn’t want the day to end. One beautiful, perfect day.