When we started to plan our trip to Normandy, I knew we had to make a stop in London first. I have been traveling to Europe regularly for 22 years. In fact, our honeymoon anniversary (August 1995) marks my first research trip to Europe after my first study abroad trip in 1986. This trip is my first real vacation only trip to Europe – no classes, no interviews, no library research, just fun with my family.
London is probably my favorite city in Europe, although it’s very hard to compare to Paris, Rome and Berlin. I also love Vienna and Brussels for different reasons. But I love the underground, and the theatre, the parks and the shopping (I didn’t get to do any with the boys around on this trip), the food and the people-watching, the politics and the attitude.
We landed on the 4th of July, definitely not a holiday in London. We started off by trying get over our jet lag with a lot of walking. We did allow ourselves a nap at our apartment. We rented a two-bedroom place right next to Paddington station through VRBO. Our first stop was to grab some sandwiches so we could enjoy lunch in Kensington Gardens. Then we walked through Hyde Park and St. James Park, before checking out the West End. The weather was very warm the whole time we were in London, mostly in the 80s.
We met my friend, Glyn Ford, at his club, the (in)famous Groucho Club, for a drink before dinner. Glyn is a former MEP from Manchester who has been a Labour Party stalwart since the 80s and worked on antidiscrimination policy. He was the focal point of my book, Legislating Equality, and we have been friends for many years, he has hosted me in Brussels many times. We didn’t get into talking about Trump or Brexit much, those topics are too painful for both of us, we talked more about recent household moves and family life. I hope to start working on Glyn’s biography soon…we found a good Indian food place for dinner nearby and tried to sleep in our non-air-conditioned apartment that night….
Wednesday morning, we met my friend Steven Erlanger, currently London bureau chief for the NY Times, soon to be in Brussels as the diplomatic correspondent. I met Steve about 10 years ago when I started going to the Brussels Forum and we have kept in touch over the years. We did talk a lot about Trump and politics, which wasn’t very encouraging. He was headed to the G20 meetings, so I’ll have to check in with him this week to get his personal perspective, but I can read all about his professional perspective in his most recent articles.
The next stop was Westminster Cathedral. Very beautiful and majestic, and a reminder of the schism between Protestants/Anglicans and Catholics in England. We then moved on to Westminster Abby, which is overwhelming in scale with the amazing number of tombs and monuments to historical figures. The audio tour was very helpful in giving context to the many chapels, and we were lucky to have access to all of chapels, sometimes they are closed for various reasons.
After lunch, went the British Museum and saw the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon. We picked up some tickets for a comedy (Tapeface) for Thursday night at the half-price ticket outlet in Leicester square and headed off for dinner at an Italian restaurant (Wildwood) in the West End.
Thursday morning we went to the Churchill War Rooms which were much more extensive than I expected. We spent a lot of time in the Churchill museum section, which had a lot of interactive sections and excerpts from his speeches. It made it easy to imagine being down there during the war and the courage the people must have had to be there during bombardments.
After another quick lunch, we made our way to the Imperial War Museum on the other side of the Thames river. We didn’t have much time there, so we focused on the World War I section which had been recently updated, and also had many new interactive exhibits. It was very sobering to think of the millions of lives lost, and the huge transition from cavalry to more modern styles of warfare including tank warfare. After a quick dinner at Pret a Manger, we made it to our show, Tapeface, which was very funny – the boys really enjoyed it, and it’s nice that they are now old enough to take to these types of shows.
Friday, we stopped at Leicester square and picked up tickets for the show, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery for Friday night before heading back to the British Museum to see the special exhibition on Japanese wood block prints. We also checked out the rooms about the Anglo-Saxons and British history. We then had a nice dinner at a fish restaurant before going to our show, which was also very funny.
Saturday, we made a quick dash to the Victoria and Albert Museum before heading to the train station, but unfortunately we missed our train, so we had to take a later train to Calais, but that meant that Andrew, Mike and Brandon had a chance to visit the British Library and see the Magna Carta and other documents. Then we were off to Calais through the Chunnel!
I must comment that my boys, Andrew (16) and Brandon (13) have been a joy to travel with. They have been traveling with us to Europe since they were infants, and they have always been troopers, but now that they are older and can appreciate things like the theatre it’s really great to see them becoming young men, hear their opinions and see them develop their own ideas. I was so surprised when Andrew wanted to go to San Francisco on his own with some of his friends a few weeks ago and visit the De Young Museum, but it makes sense given that he has spent his life visiting great museums in Europe. They make me proud 🙂