Sunday, December 23, 2007
Christmastime in England
After being home as recently as October and wanting to fulfill longtime Christmas travel dreams, I decided not to go home for the holidays for the first time ever (another huge shout-out to Mom and the rest of the family for their understanding) . This week started a two-week European holiday travel trip of which the first stop was about as close to my home as you could get without actually setting foot in the U.S. (Sorry, England, but it's true).
When I first returned to Europe (after a college study abroad trip in ’93) for this opportunity in Sweden, my travel urge was more focused on Eastern Europe and other places not previously visited. My how things change… After two Paris weekends and this stop in London, I understand that these all-too typical destinations on the usual American itinerary in Europe are for good reason. To be in London and the smaller English town of Bath during the festive Christmas season was the clincher for my decision and the past five days have been Victorian outstanding.
After my weekend in Stockholm in early December, which I consider my first stop on this holiday trip and with visions of a Dickensian Christmas dancing in my head, I arrived to London earlier this week. The Christmas spirit could never be omnipresent in a city like this – it’s just too big – but if you know where to go, the Christmas merriment is in full swing. My favorites were the Somerset House for ice-skating, Trafalgar Square for the annual Norwegian gift of the larger-than-life Christmas “spruce,” the decorations and spirit at Covent Garden, St. Paul’s Cathedral and other churches for Christmas services and celebratory concerts, Oxford Circus for the bright lights - big shopping atmosphere and all of Bath, the quintessential Victorian town two hours outside of London. It doesn’t get much better than a candlelight Christmas concert in the historical abbey of a charming English countryside town.
Some other highlights, thoughts and impressions on England and the Brits:
Culturally and undoubtedly due to language, I definitely feel a kindred spirit with the English people I have met and with the experiences I have had here. My heritage is English and Scottish, so that certainly has something to do with it as well. It wasn’t just because there’s a Starbucks on every corner (literally as many as Seattle, the home of Starbucks) that I noticed an inner connection to England and her people.
London just never quits. I’ve been going strong for five days and my future London itineraries just keep getting bigger. So much rich culture, history, tradition, art, theater, exhibitions, opportunities and pubs(!!!). Love those pubs! Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, the first and most authentic pub in London (“rebuilt” in 1667), was tops on my list.
An overlooked exhibit in London is the Treasures of the British Library. In one 300 square meter location is nothing short of the textual foundation of Western Civilization: the oldest version we have of the New Testament and many books of the Old, the Magna Carta, some of the very first maps ever created, the Gutenberg Bible, Shakespeare and other literary giants, Handel’s Messiah and other priceless compositions and the list goes on. For anyone with a remote interest in history, art or cultural artifacts, this free exhibit is a must.
You’ve heard right. London is indeed very expensive…and worth every pence.
And for someone who doesn’t like to experience cities with heat or tourists, the week before Christmas in London was simply ideal for me. I did the obligatory walk through Her Majesty’s Crown Jewels, a place that routinely has at least an hour-long line, and never had to stop! Additionally, London is known as such an international city that sometimes it's hard to find any authentic English people. This hasn't been the case at all - this week I've heard very few other languages than English.
And oh those British accents…
Tomorrow I leave for my next destination, where I will spend Christmas Eve, Day and Boxing Day (as the British and Canadians refer to it). See you next week from another storybook location on this European holiday journey.
“Happy Christmas” from England.
1. Trafalgar Square at night, the very heart of London, and the Christmas tree from the people of Norway (an annual gift to thank the British for their help in WWII).
2. The Somerset House ice-skating rink.
3. Covent Garden, already an arts, crafts and shopping mecca in London, becomes even more so during the Christmas season.
4. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, the oldest pub in London and a classic pub scene inside...
5. Bath is a picturesque town at all times, but especially at Christmas.