Hometown Tourist

It is strange to feel like a tourist in London.

The “season” for expats is defined by the school year.   After one such season, we are very “at home” in London.   Today was the American School’s graduation.  I feel like I, too, have graduated from newbie to homey.

We waved goodbye to new friends as they returned permanently to the US this week, and we waved hello to old friends and family who came to visit and fill the immediate void.  Lisa Young and her three daughters arrived the same day as my brother and his son.

Suddenly, I was a tourist in my hometown.  Camera hanging from my neck, itinerary tucked into my purse, tickets pre-ordered, reservations made, we all ventured into the London ready to conquer the city in two days.

On Day One, we intended to hop on the tube and avoid the inevitable traffic on our way to the Tower of London, but our station was closed that morning.  There was a huge sign explaining the delay and apologizing for the inconvenience.  Apparently, the tube was not running because there was “a man under the train” at Bond Street.  We are not sure exactly what that cryptic message really meant, but it sounded potentially ghastly.  Only the English would apologize for such an occurrence.

Our guests got a taste of London traffic as we battled our way across the Thames to see the Crown Jewels, the mighty armory, the torture equipment, and the stoic guards at the Tower of London.

We escaped the tourist trail for lunch and crossed London Bridge to enjoy the myriad of market stalls at Borough Market.  We feasted on our finds at cafe tables next to Southwark Cathedral.  After lunch, we traipsed through the market maze to eat ice cream, purchase fudge and chocolate, and not only sample delicious cheeses but smell their “vanilla” aromas.  Note to self, taste buds do not work when under ice cream’s deep freeze.  Also, I challenge anyone to find a vanilla scent in a ripened cheese!

After lunch, it was time to cross London Bridge again on our way to St. Paul’s cathedral.  We climbed the nearly 200 steps to the Whispering Gallery and tested its phenomenon of allowing a mere whisper to be heard across its massive dome.  It actually does work!

The kids continued the climb the next 200+ steps up narrow winding corridors to get to the tippy top of the dome with outstanding views of the city.  They did this unaccompanied by either Lisa or me; it was classic claustrophobia not middle-age knees that kept us grounded…I swear!  This ended up being the highlight of the kids’ day — free and on top of the world.

Day Two brought us to Buckingham Palace to witness the Changing of the Guard.  My local knowledge served us well as we avoided the huge crowds in front of the palace and easily made our way unencumbered to the adjacent Horse Guards building to watch the guards prepare for their march.  We had front row views of the pomp and pageantry as the Irish Regiment Band played and the guards lined up like toy soldiers.  The woman next to me was the proud parent of one of the band members, adding to the intimacy of our point of view.

We had just enough time to walk through St. James Park and admire this giant crown topiary when the inevitable rain rolled in, scattering the throngs of people who had assembled at the palace earlier.  Rain was just another part of our tourist experience; people come to London expecting to get wet!  Lisa explained that the rain was like a tourist attraction for her family as they had left perpetually sunny LA for persistently soggy London:  “We’ve seen enough of the sun.  It gets boring.”  Honestly, I cannot imagine.

We escaped the wet weather by traveling to Knightsbridge to enjoy Bubble Tea and lunch at Harvey Nichols.  We then walked further up Brompton Road to ride the Egyptian Escalator at Harrods.  As we made our ascension surrounded by the elaborate Egyptian decor, we were serenaded by an operatic soprano singing to us from a balcony on the top floor of the store.  Not your every day shopping experience!

There is no rest for the active tourist, so it wasn’t long after lunch that we found ourselves seated around yet another table engaged in the very English tradition of Afternoon High Tea.  We all agreed that there really isn’t anything better than a good scone with clotted cream and jam.  Add a glass of champagne and you have perfection.

It is fun to do touristy things with friends.  Everything takes on a fresh perspective when you experience it with people who are seeing it for the first time.  It rekindles the initial excitement that captivated us when we first moved here.

Tomorrow we continue our time together with a trip to Barcelona and Majorca.  The main attraction for my family will not be the grand sites but the guaranteed sunshine.

We will embark on a trip where we will all be tourists on equal footing.

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