26-30 June 2012. Tuesday to Saturday.
The flight from Florence to London was quick and painless. I just love flying over the English countryside and seeing the small villages, farm houses, and hedgerows. We landed in London City Airport, located to the east of London near the new Olympic Park. We used our oyster cards to bring us to the city center and then to Kings Cross where we could walk to our favorite B&B: The George. In the process of traveling, we realized that the wheels had broken on both the big green and little red suitcases. It was like dragging cinderblocks down the sidewalk. The George is a funky little hotel located in Cartwright Gardens, just down the street from Russell Square Park. In the mornings, they give us a tasty English Breakfast and stuff us full of toast, eggs and beans.
After settling in to our room, we hopped on the Metro out to Wimbledon. I was very excited to learn that the Wimbledon English Lawn Tennis Championships would be taking place that week and next. We walked through Wimbledon Park to the entrance gate and stood in a short queue to buy tickets to enter the grounds. Since we arrived in the afternoon, the tickets were half price. With entrance to the grounds, we watched the matches taking place at all of the courts except for courts Center, 1, and 2. From the green, we could sit and watch Andy Murray playing on the big screen while we enjoyed a light dinner. While we were wandering through the different courts, two gentlemen approached us and asked if we wanted their tickets to court 1 and of course we said yes. For about 20 minutes we sat in one of the grand stands watching American Andy Roddick play Britain’s Jamie Baker. It was so fun to watch all of the action until it began to rain. I was most impressed by how quickly the ball boys lowered the net, covered the lawn, and pulled the referee under cover. Like clockwork. By then it was late and the park was closing, so we headed back to The George after stopping for fish n’ chips.
The entire Wimbledon Championships is such a classy event and full of tradition. Even the scoreboards are the original wooden ones that must be updated by hand. I was replaying the movie Wimbledon in my head the entire time and noticing locations used in the film.
In the morning we wandered out to Trafalgar Square, to the British Portrait Gallery and to look at London’s “Broadway,” the West End. Then, we walked to Picadilly Circus to find a department store. In Lake Como, we had met two English ladies on their summer holiday and they both recommended Fortnum & Mason for afternoon tea. Mom and I enjoyed lunch and tea in their Parlour on the second floor. On the top floor is the recently renovated tea room to honor the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. There we saw photos of the Queen, Princess Kate, and Camilla at the grand re-opening.
We then made our way to Euston station where we took the train out of London center to Watford Junction for a tour of the Harry Potter sets at the Warner Brothers Studio. These huge sound stages had been used for all eight of the Harry Potter movies and has recently been preserved for fans to visit. Everything was there, from Potions Class, to Gryffindor Common Room, to the Ministry of Magic. Accompanied by an audio guide, I learned everything about the making of these great movies, from set design, to costumes, to the “magic” of the special effects. I highly recommend visiting this to every Harry Potter fan. At the end of the tour, was the huge scale model of Hogwarts. I was blown away by how much detail was put into these movies and some visitors got a little emotional at the end.
That night, Germany was playing again in the Football European Cup, so we made our way to a pub to enjoy dinner and the game. Mom even tried cider for the first time.
We took the train early this morning to the town of Oxford and the University of Oxford. We chose Thursday because it was the only day that did not predict rain. We were surprised that it was Open Day, the day reserved for future applicants to come and check out the colleges and get information about their major. Usually, the colleges are not open to the public, or you have to pay to enter, but today was special. I put on the story that I was thinking of applying for the masters program (which I would love to do), and they let us in to discover the beautiful dormitories and Gothic structures inside.
We enjoyed lunch at the Eagle and Child Pub, now famous as the meeting place for the literary club, the Inklings; members of which include C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. We sat in the room where they met and enjoyed a sandwich. In the afternoon, we took a walking tour of the town and learned many stories about the different colleges. The tour included entrance to the Divinity School, the room where students meet for lectures and discussions on theology. Inside, the stained glass was amazing and so were the very impressive fan vaults that formed the ceiling.
Last stop was Christ Church College, the Alma mater of my church’s founder, John Wesley. We found a portrait of him in the beautiful dining hall. The dining hall and main stair were used in the Harry Potter movies as the Great Hall at Hogwarts. We peeked into some of the student dormitories and the excellent historical library.
Please can I go to Oxford?!?!?!
Our last day in London. This time, we took the metro out to Hampton Court Palace. The huge estate and gardens was the summer residence for King Henry VIII, and escape from Whitehall Castle in London. We began the tour by visiting the huge kitchens. It was amazing how much food passed through the kitchens and to the tables. We visited the King’s chambers and entertaining hall, wandered the gardens and even met the King himself and listened to him tell the story of his six wives.
We splurged on our last European dinner that night at the hotel Claridge’s. We were welcomed in with a smile and enjoyed a tasty 3-course menu du jour. Surrounded by photographs of their famous patrons, we felt so out of place, but enjoyed it none the less; especially the washrooms, where the water is running in the sink just as you step out of the stall. As a souvenir, we were given little tins of their afternoon tea.
I absolutely love London and the culture that grew from years of tradition. London is cozy yet proper and filled with history and architecture that fascinates me. Though the people are cold at first, they love to share their culture, from tea to tennis.
The 12-hour flight to America was uneventful. I stayed awake the entire time, catching up on the movies I had missed from the year in Italy. I guess it did not really hit me that I was actually going back to California until we were flying over the deserts of Utah and Arizona and making our decent into the LA basin. A slight fear hit me as I began to see the miles-wide urban sprawl that is Southern California. I did not want to land. I wanted to return back to Bavaria and the little hut in the Alps, back to Toscana and my butcher in Chianti. But the runway came. We passed through customs, I was welcomed back to America by a picture of President Obama. Uncle Mart picked us up from arrivals and mom and I began the 4-hour drive back to SLO.
During the long drive, I began recounting the stories of the past year to my mama and remembering the countless amazing adventures I had and the many good friends I had made. It is such a blessing to have been given this opportunity to travel and learn; to see the inspirational architecture and meet my family in Germany.
Finally back on the Central Coast of California, the rolling Tuscan-like hills began to form. I was greeted at the door by my cats, my couch, my home.