This morning, the sky over London is pale blue streaked with shades of gray. I’m still here and it is still like being in a dream.
Yesterday’s journey from my hotel began with a ride on the Tube, my first. Having lived in NYC, I was inclined to think the Tube would be like the Subway. It wasn’t and I like it better. I found the lines quite a bit easier to decipher, and the whole process a lot more intuitive. But then, also, I am now older and less easily plussed, and so maybe it isn’t the Tube that runs better, maybe it is me.
I met up with a group of writers who are all going to be published in 2017 at a restaurant called Dishoom. We tucked into a booth downstairs and dug deep into conversation. It was lively and lovely, and I was in awe of each of them.
London is an incredible city to experience on foot, and that’s exactly what we did.
We trailed down Charring Cross road and broke out at Trafalgar Square, a bustling, vibrant spot with famous landmarks and a smattering of talented street performers. Crawling along one edge is the National Gallery.
We walked through a portion of the Gallery, taking in works by Cezanne, Monet, Van Gough and lesser known pieces (or at least, to me) but no less breathtaking.
There was one, a self portrait by the female artist Elizabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, that I found particularly arresting. She was the only female artist in a room full of men, and even now she demanded respect.
I stopped on the far side of the Square to get a shot of the Gallery, and when I turned around I was met, to my complete surprise, by a view down Whitehall Street of the top of Big Ben. I don’t know if it was just that I’d not expected it, but tears welled in my eyes. I stood there for a moment stunned, arrested.
Walking toward Parliament feels like the building of a climactic moment in a movie. With each step you get closer to the thing you are looking for, while also constantly walking into moments that surprise you. We saw the House of Guards, 10 Downing Street, the side of Westminster Abbey, the London Eye. My eyes kept trailing back to Big Ben, and once we were upon it, I couldn’t seem to move. I didn’t try.
I stood. I stared. I embraced the utter disbelief that it was right in front of me and was easily one of the most stunning pieces of architecture I’d seen up close.
As we walk across the Westminster Bridge toward the London Eye, it began to rain. That didn’t stop me from stopping repeatedly to take more pictures. It didn’t dampen my fervor for the walk. It meant pulling my hood up and baring into the splatter.
Somehow, London in the rain is even more charming.
We finished our night at a Kensington restaurant called Ffiona’s. With walls papered in sheet music and a country scene, flickering candlelight on the shabby chic tables all tucked into an intimate space. The patron is a woman, unsurprisingly, named Fiona, who not only owns but runs the floor. We ordered the night’s specials, roast beef and half a chicken, potatoes, gravy, some kind of ribboned greens that I devoured. It was an experience for my mouth and my mind. When my husband ordered a whisky, she plopped the bottle down on the table and let him serve himself.
Later I asked for a cup, and we sat there talking and dreaming, laughing and thinking, and when it was sadly time to go — because as much as we might want to, we couldn’t sleep there —Fiona sat at our table to work out the bill and have a chat. We walked out smiling, and my husband said quietly, “That was perfect.”
The whole day was perfect.