Gertrude Stein once said, “America is my country and Paris is my hometown.” I’m not sure when she said this or why, but I know that in many ways I echo this feeling but for me, London is my hometown. There is something about that city that I have loved for most of my life, even before I visited there the first time three years ago. Maybe it’s the cathedrals with windows that point to the heavens and tourists who have no understanding of the sacred stones they are walking on. Or perhaps it is the story of a city that refuses to give in, even when German warplanes bombard her rooftops with fire night after night. Or maybe it’s the possibility of a street like Portobello Road (I sometimes day-dream of dancing there with Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson). I’m not sure what it is about that city, but even as I prepare to travel there in a few days, I know six days will not be enough to quench this thirst.
Realizing my time will be short, I’ve decided to focus on just a few experiences rather than trying to squish in the insane amount I attempted with my mother a few years ago.
- Portobello Road – We visited last time on a weekday and were a bit saddened by the last of life. I did pick up my two favorite souvenirs there: a compass and a small plaque “In 1832 on this spot nothing happened.” This time I’ll venture back on a Saturday when the booths are out and hopefully the tourists too.
- Royal Parks Half Marathon – This is one of my better and more foolish ideas since I’ll be running / walking this journey about 24 hours after landing in the city. I wish I was prepared enough to run the entire thing but for this round I will have to obey my legs when they demand a break.
- St. Paul’s Cathedral – Three years ago I traveled to this church by myself while my mother returned to Westminster Abbey for their gift shop (yes, I’ll definitely be returning to the abbey as well). I made it, slowly, up the 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery of the Dome, then back down, even more slowly. I was disappointed by the experience but couldn’t figure out why for a long while. Now I can finally admit that I was angry at myself for being in such horrible shape that I couldn’t make it up the 528 steps to the top. I want to make it all the way to the top, even if I am huffing, puffing, and looking like an American tourist. I want to look out over that golden dome and onto the city from one of the best views around (a view that volunteer firefighters fought for during World War II). I’m going to make it this time.
- Westminster Abbey – More than going back, I just want to be there longer, hiding in a corner somewhere, reading through Psalms and wondering at how God allowed man to create this amazing work.
- Speaker’s Corner – Where else can you hear about men who want to save the world next to others predicting its end due to an alien invasion. It’s no more insane than the 2012 Presidential Debates in mid-2011.
- Wandering – There are plenty of other maybes and possibles that I have notes in my bag for, but mostly I just want to wander up and down the Thames, sometimes in my running shoes, and pretend for a few minutes that it truly is my hometown.