(In the Style of Jane Austen)
On 22nd March, year of our Lord MMII, the Naperville Kozik’s took it upon themselves to travel to the Capital of England, London. Late in the evening on a Friday, we took flight from O’Hare in Chicago of these United States. Though the night was long, all managed some sleep, with the lone exception being Elizabeth, the eldest childe.
Upon arriving at Heathrow, having flown directly over Windsor Castle on approach (though only Mother was the witness thereof), we had a long wait to be approved for entry to the country. Once through, luggage arrived quickly, and we made our way to the Capital, via the express train to Paddington Station. From Paddington, it was a quick (amazingly!) taxi ride to our abode in the city, the Royal Court Apartments. Our flat not yet being ready, we left our luggage, and made what turned out to be a long pre-ambulation out to the city itself (having not yet discovered the joys of the Tube!).
With luncheon at the Hard Rock Café being our destination, we made for Hyde Park and the Serpentine. Here our eyes were amazed at the cunningness with which the Park was laid out – having beautiful Trees of Apple and Magnolia in full bloom, along with Daffodils shining as brightly as any Woodsworth Poem would describe. Wildlife was in full-unabashed display – with waterfowl and arboreal birds of all type –many not before seen by the family. Even wicked Magpies shone in splendour of black and white with sheen of magnificent blues. Dogs and their owners pranced happily in the early spring day along the water and happy children strolled, never straying far from the safety of their parents.
Having received directions from the helpful Doorman at the Hyde Park Hilton, we reached our destination, tired and dusty, disoriented from the time change. Such disorientation was rapidly dissolved by the delivery of sustenance – our first food on this foreign soil (though the youngest, being Michael, noted that the British move upon a slower time frame than we Americans!). Having espied Hamley’s bags in the hands of fellow diners, and Mother being full of warm memories of Christmas shopping trips in her youth, we made for Regent Street, having little understanding of how far a distance we were committing ourselves to walk!
The sights and sounds of the Piccadilly street filled us as we moved down the Lane – stores with strange names, and some with familiarity. How many Starbucks did we see, along with more than a few Burger Kings, and McDonalds!
As we reached the famous Circus, complete with neon lights, we saw our first Tower Records, and our eldest knew that she had to search for her favourite sounds of Japan – having noted the true international nature of London during our walk. Disappointed in her search, and the youngest being tired and impatient to see this Hamley’s, we turned the corner onto Regent Street, and were amazed at the beauty of the Regency architecture. Such an enjoyable walk, noting storied facilities such as Burberrys, Liberty, etc! Our feet, however, were feeling less joy than our brains, until such time as we found Hamley’s.
Our goal reached, the children were thrilled at the collections that the Store held – from the ubiquitous Beanie babies, to the sublime Action Man, unknown to our American shores. Full collections of Legos were found – and all exhaustion forgiven as Bionicles were selected for purchase. Even the eldest was happy to find Anime collections, and she acquired Vash of Trigun fame.
The Store being departed, we walked further up the street, until our feet could no longer take the effort, and we started back to our abode. With one happy Accident, St. George’s, Hanover Square, was found, along with a taxi to relieve our tired bodies! Upon reaching our flat, we found that it was not yet ready, so we delayed briefly in the front room, trying not to let our heavy lids get the best of us in sleep! Once we were able to reach the rooms, we carefully unpacked (the children somewhat dismayed at the lack of American modernity, but the parents used to such age, and arrangement from travels upon the continent) and all rested our feet and eyes.
At half past the hour of six, our bodies somewhat restored, and our brains once more ready for adventure, we endeavoured to try out the Underground as an experiment – an experiment which would prove to be our closest friend for the next five days! We made for Lancaster Gate, our closest station, with the end goal being Oxford Circus, the end of the Walk we had made in the Afternoon. The ride being both convenient and easy, we then found our way to Marks and Spencer, Mother once more calling upon her youthful memories of clothing bought and well worn as a child. She was not disappointed! Such clothing was still much in evidence – and the eldest was even convinced to buy some pants made of denim, much decorated with flowers, and a matching sweater top. The youngest was much discommoded by hunger and jet lag, so we endeavoured to find sustenance – happily discovered next door at a McDonald’s!
So ended our day – as we moved back to the Tube, and thence back to our flat – each ready for sleep!
Being Our Second Day . . .
Upon awakening – surprised at the hour – and in some cases the difficulty of sleeping on Greenwich time, we dressed and determined that we would investigate first our own local Church (St. Giles), and then St. Paul’s, it being Palm Sunday. Discovering the sung mass well under way locally (and construction forcing a most obvious entry by the Altar), we decided that St. Paul’s would be the better destination. Purchasing our first family tickets for the Daily use of the Tube, we made directly to the Cathedral, happily arriving less than twenty minutes into the sung Passion. We received both Palms (neatly pre-formed into Crosses!) and Holy Communion within the beautiful confines of the Cathedral, noting both decoration, and memorials, especially that dedicated to the memory of the esteemed departed Lord Wellington.
After completing the Mass, we realized hunger could wait no longer, and so we directed ourselves to the Café in the Crypt – enjoying our first true British food of buttered sandwiches (most uncommon in the States!). We toured the Gift Shop, finding many souvenirs such as entertain tourists as ourselves – though we determined to purchase only Postal Cards as memories, planning to return later in the week when we could arrive as spectators as opposed to Mass Communicants!
We then returned to the Underground, with the Famous British Museum and its many treasures as our next direction. Though Mother took us on a longer route than necessary (having not yet oriented herself to the non-regular street patterns!) we arrived at the Museum, having noted upon our way an Internet Café at the local Virgin Records.
What treasures did we see! Father and Mother were both most Amazed at the way the Children both took to exploration, each turn of the corridor providing more and more wondrous sites. Whether Egyptian statues of enormous size and Beauty, or the Golden treasures of Sutton Hoo, each room offered such things as none had recollected seeing before, even at such a storied institution as the Field Museum of Chicago. It was with delight that both Parents heard their Children echo back to them snippets from their teachings – proof certainly that there is still something to be said for the training of the American education system! The treasures are too numerous to mention, however, of most note were the politically troubled Elgin Marbles (now known more properly as the Parthenon Treasures), the Roman antiquities, the Assyrian collection, the Medieval archives, and, of course, the Rosetta Stone. We also found treasures of the island of Cyprus, of particular interest to the eldest, being a current subject of her Studies.
Our time at the Museum being done, we made our way back to Tottenham Court Road, intending to stop only for dinner. However, we found that we could not do without a stop at a local Comic Purveyor (though the products of Top Cow were not much in evidence – both Gundam and Manga were), and the Internet Café (to produce additional copies of travel documents misplaced the previous day). For dinner, we determined that we would stop at Oxford Circus, and walk once more down Regent Street to see the sites of Piccadilly Circus at night – our feet being less tired than anticipated.
Once at Piccadilly Circus, Father ensured one and all that there were more lights to be seen, so we walked toward the Theaters and crowds of Leicester Square where the Police were much in evidence owing to the apparent activities of Cellular Phone thieves. Once more in need of American type food, we determined to stop at the local Burger King – noting our first pay toilets!
Tired once more, we took the Tube by way of the Northern Line and then back to the Central Line and home to Lancaster Gate.
Our Third Day . . .
The alarm being set (but the eldest awakening beforehand, being only able to sleep every other day!), we all arose early, the Tower of London being our goal for the morning. We arrived at the Tower (our arrival requiring the longest walk as we switched Underground lines at Bank station) our gaze first falling on the ruins of the Ancient Roman wall that previously encircled the Ancient city of Londonium. The queue for entry was most long, but the wait tolerable owing to the magnificence of the view of the Tower.
Once in the Tower proper, we determined to participate in the tour led by Yeoman of the Guard Phil. Phil led us on a most interesting (and entertaining) tour, pointing out the Bloody history of the storied castle. How thrilling to stand upon the same ground that Gloriana (Elizabeth I, for the un-initiated) herself walked! The Youngest was of course, most interested in those who had lost their lives upon the grounds, whereas the females of the family were most engaged in the Jewels of the Crown (engaging to purchase small memories of the same). The youngest enjoyed the weaponry in the Tower, whilst the Father found touring tiring owing to jet lag. This was quickly resolved by sustenance by the Tower green – once more eating true British sandwiches (a taste the Children had still not acquired). The queues then being too long to view the Bloody Tower, the family stopped at the Cradle Tower to see what life would have been most like during the Reign of King Edward I (cold and chilly said the Mother!).
Our tour being at an end, we rode the Underground District line to Westminster, there to see the Abbey of same name. Upon arrival, we found ourselves at the very foot of Big Ben itself, as it struck the o’clock! Magnificent sound, with the Abbey bells ringing a peal behind! We walked past strong security, ensuring the safety of the government in these trying times, though all were amazed at how much less security there was compared to that which could be found in the States. We walked past statues of Winston Churchill and the Protector, and then found ourselves at the Abbey grounds themselves.
Such majesty, such history, such grandeur! Imagine all the feet – shod in cloth, leather, or now synthetics - walking these sacred pathways! From Edward the Confessor to the Beauty of Gloriana herself, Westminster shines with the glory of the years.
Needing rest once more, the weary travelers found themselves soft drinks and a place to sit in front of St Margaret’s Church – enjoying the air and the sunshine. The Eldest’s drink, most unfortunately, overflowed upon opening, an event that led to the evident displeasure of a passing Verger, and the amusement of the family (“someone else must have done the deed” in all innocence we then sat!).
We then determined it was time for us to discover Harrod’s the purveyor of goods large and small – so we took the Underground Jubilee line to Piccadilly line, and entered into what can only be described as a Magic Kingdom (though not run by a Mouse!). All were tired so we stopped at the Pizzeria in the food court, and purchased enough food to feed a Small Army – or the Kozik family in exhaustion. With rest accomplished, we then toured the store from top to bottom – enjoying the sites of Easter treats, the Pet Store, the Electronics Store, the Clothing area (the eldest being once more encouraged to purchase stylish clothing in anticipation of the annual visit to Captiva!), and most of all the Toys! Ah memories flood back again – the first Magic set, the Telescope! A quick stop at the Sports area to find a Football jersey for the youngest, and then back to the Flat for a well deserved rest.
The youngest being too tired for more, the Eldest and Father headed for Marble Arch for dinner and purchase of soda and light foods to carry us through the evening – thus ending the third day of our travels.
Day four begins . . .
Being filled the previous day with the wonders of the ancients, it was time to bring ourselves to more modern enjoyment. Thus we started our day at Madame Tussaud’s. Happy Tourists for many years having found themselves surprised by coming face to face with the apparent real life heroes of the day – we endeavoured to add ourselves to their numbers. We first “met” Pierce Brosnan of Remington Steele and James Bond fame, then Patrick Stewart – better known as Captain Jean Luc Picard. We found ourselves surprised by the shortness of stature of Mr. Stewart – and indeed, of the majority of those represented!
Mother and Father and the Eldest were happily surprised by the sight of Mr. Alan Titchmarsh, and posed merrily with him, pretending to one and all that our Garden had just been visited by those of the Ground Force team! We then more seriously found ourselves with politicians and world leaders – with Father speaking most eloquently with President George W. Bush (43!) and the Honorable Tony Blair, Prime Minister, on the sorry state of the Telecommunications industry, The Youngest enjoyed meeting both Richard I (the Lionheart) and Henry V. All were surprised (as planned) by the gore of the Camber of Horrors (of particular note being the victim of one Jack the Ripper). Though a pedestrian experience, all enjoyed the trip!
We then traveled down the Underground Bakerloo line to Covent Garden, an area Filled with unique attractions. Whether the Street Performers, or the different stores, the family enjoyed the sights and sounds here along with the memories of “My Fair Lady” that must come with such a visit! Lunch was found at The White Lion, a most noble Pub (where the Mother partook of her only Guinness of the trip). We also visited the Transportation Museum as we had become fascinated with the technological wonders of the Tube.
Having acquired a taste for Museums, and with Father lately enjoying a geological reference with many allusions to the London Natural History Museum, we embarked on our next journey to the same. Being recently updated, the Earth section of the Natural History Museum engaged the family in its wonders for the next hours, observing Earthquakes, Geological history and predictions, rocks of many sorts, and the pleasures of the Precious stones the Earth gives us.
With a surfeit of Museums behind us, it was time to be off once again to Harrod’s, where we enjoyed not only tea, but also more of the toy section. This time we also went to the fine China, observing the Royal Doulton of the family, then traditional School uniforms, and more football and rugby jerseys – this time for Father and Mother.
Exhaustion set in once more, so off the Family went back to their home of the week. This time Mother and the Eldest stayed home for the evening (the Eldest having hurt her Ankle upon our pre-ambulations), while the Father and Youngest went to investigate our local environs. Much to their surprise they discovered that Paddington was within easy walking distance, along with many Restaurants, and grocery stores. They returned to the Flat, to enjoy a show upon the Television regarding the History of prisoners within the Tower confines (even seeing our new acquaintance the Yeoman Warder Phil on the screen), So ended our fourth day.
Our plans on this day being dependent on the state of the Eldest’s ankles, we waited until all were awake to plan our enjoyment. With her ankle pain being bearable, we determined to take the Underground to Trafalgar Square to see the “Rats with Wings”, otherwise known as Pidgeons. We enjoyed both the sights, and the flying rats! We then went on to see St. Martin in the Fields church, a fine example of Regency architecture, and once more ate in a church Crypt! The Souvenir shop here had fine Brass Rubbings and – for the Youngest – a most Excellent Henry Plantagenet.
We then endeavoured to walk to Buckingham Palace – enjoying on our way Horse Guards, 10 Downing Street (home to the aforementioned Tony Blair), and St. James Park. In St. James Park we found even greater variety in Bird Life, including, gloriously, White Pelicans, one of which let the Children close enough to Pet!
At Buckingham Palace, we did as all Tourists do – holding onto the railings and gawking aimlessly at the blank windows! We also became most unnecessarily excited by the arrival – by coach – of Her Majesty’s mail – but then, as we rarely see a coach pulled by a Horse, even it is only being mundanely used by glorified Postal Carriers, this colonial naiveté can be understood! It should be noted that we also saw example of equally bumptious behaviour from a German film Crew, complete with Imposter Queen!
Walking back to our Favourite, Piccadilly Circus, we passed by St. James Palace – home to her Majesty, the Queen Mother, and Prince Charles, not knowing that just three short days later, the Queen Mother would pass from this Earth at the age of One Hundred and One.
From Piccadilly Circus, we made a short stop at Portobello Road, not expecting the Market, knowing that it runs only on Saturdays, but hoping for a Coin Shop for the Youngest; but being disappointed in this quest; thereafter returning to home at Lancaster Gate. After a brief rest, we went forth into the Paddington Area, to enjoy dinner at Garfunkels and a confirmation at the British Air desk at Paddington for our return trip, before returning to our Flat for packing and one last evening of rest.
Our Journey Ends . . .
We arose and greeted our last day in London – ready for one last brief adventure! We paid our shot with the hotelier, and went forth into the glorious sunshine. Passing Lancaster Gate, our plans for one last trip on the Tube seemed dashed, as the station was closed, necessitating the hailing of a Taxi to take us to St. Paul’s, where as previously planned, we intended to be tourists as opposed to Holy Communicants. The necessity of the Taxi became a happy accident, as we were able to enjoy one more site of Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square, along with a viewing of the Victorian Embankment.
Upon arrival at the Cathedral, we found that it being Maundy Thursday, our original tourist plans were for naught. However, we again made this a Happy accident, as we walked thence to the Courts of Old Bailey (happening upon a large Press core awaiting the outcome of an unhappy Trial), and from there down High Holborn in Search of Staple Inn, a lone relict of pre-fire London. Glorious building!
Luck was smiling upon us even more, as after a brief stop for sustenance we found ourselves close to the confines of the British Museum and its corresponding Antiquities stores, enabling us to find the Youngest a Coin (Charles I sixpence – as he did after all lose his head!) and were also able to acquire Coins in celebration of Her Royal Majesty’s Jubilee, along with one final stop at the Comic Book purveyor’s!
Then, it was a quick walk back to the Underground (one final ride on the Central Line), collection of our Baggage at the Royal Court Apartments, and a train ride to Heathrow for our return to these United States.
Father (being Jack) – British Museum, Tower of London, Covent Garden, Madame Tussaud’s
Mother (being Cathie) – British Museum, Mass at St. Paul’s, Natural History Museum, Harrod’s
Eldest (being Elizabeth) – Madame Tussaud, British Museum, Natural History Museum, Tower
Youngest (being Michael) – Tower, Madame Tussaud, Harrod’s, Hamley’s