Every week I receive email from Orbitz and Travelocity and American Airlines and other offering me the low fares of the week, and every week I scan them, indulge in a few quick fantasy trips, and delete the messages.
Until the second week of January, 2003.
I’d been thinking about London for a few weeks. Thinking that I haven’t been there in more than a decade. Thinking that a visit there would be very comfortable for a lone woman traveler — they speak English, after all. Thinking about the new Globe Theatre and the new Tate Modern and Harrods and pints in a pub and . . .
In the second week of January the fare to Heathrow was $226. Could I be the kind of person who decides on the spur of the moment to fly to London?
If three days is spur of the moment, then yes. I can be that person. I booked the flight on Thursday. On Friday a co-worker came to my desk and announced that she, too had jumped on the fare for next weekend. Geez, and I thought I was being unique and daring!
But going from vague notion to landing at Heathrow requires some research. Time would be tight, sights must be seen. Where to stay? What museums to visit? What to avoid?
My research kept turning to gardens and parks and I kept having to remind myself it was January.
Armed with my trusty Michelin Green (my favorite guide for most places) plus a couple secondary references, I disembarked at Heathrow and headed for the Tube. I’d booked a room in South Kensington, direct from Heathrow on the Piccadilly line. The hotel — a B&B — was a delightfully short walk from the tube stop. I was welcomed by the proprietress, but sent away until later when my room would be ready. So off I went to explore the neighborhood, which includes, of course, Harrods.
The day also included the Victoria and Albert Museum, a long walk, and, in the evening, the Tate Modern.
Saturday morning I was off and running to the Portobello Road market. Me and thousands of other visiting Americans. My natural aversion to being among Americans in a foreign country aside, I felt uncomfortable in such a touristed place. This may be Britain, but terrorists know a target when they see one. I found a couple small silver items and pressed my way back through the hoards to the tube.
I’d booked tickets for the “Bond, James Bond” exhibit at the Science Museum in advance. I thought it was too silly to miss. In fact, it turned out to be rather stressful, with computerized quizzes and trivia to study. And not enough computer terminals, so one had to wait in line to access them. I came away feeling frustrated.
Also on my silly museum list was 221b Baker Street, actually located between 234 and 236 Baker Street (something about the addresses being redone in the 1930s by “the men in bowlers with briefcases” — according to an employee). Surprisingly, in a display case of vintage jewelry among the Holmes and Watson junk I found two brooches that love.
Saturday night I met up with my equally spur-of-the-moment co-worker Tina and her boyfriend Matt. We met at Vinopolis, City of Wine, advertised as a museum with wine tasting. The museum was hysterical — some old bottles, pictures of famous vineyards, reproductions of vaguely wine-related art. We were issues extra tasting coupons because the audio tours were not charged up. Who needed the audio? Clearly everyone in the place was there to drink. When in London . . .
Sunday turned out to be a good day for shopping, and I lurched back to my hotel with a heavy bag of British chick books and goodies from Fortnum and Mason.
On Monday I plotted out a six hour walking tour in the rain. St. James’s, Mayfair, and Trafalgar, Victoria Embankment, The City, the Tower, and St. Katherine’s Dock all saw the soles of my wet, tired feet.
A couple hours of that was inside the National Gallery. I could easily have spent a couple more (on another occasion).