I recently fulfilled a decades-long dream of visiting London. I’ve been an anglophile ever since I majored in English in undergrad, reading Jane Austen, the Brontës, and Virginia Woolf in my literature classes. I promised myself I was going to visit London when I finished college. Then, when I started grad school at the age of 37, I promised myself I would go when I finished my Masters degree (which I finished in 2015.)
Not having a travel partner, and then of course the pandemic, kept me from going. Last fall a co-worker asked if I ever considered a group tour, and it was like a lightbulb went off. A group tour would be ideal! The tour company would plan the itinerary, thus maximizing my time, and I would have people to travel with. Being with a group would also alleviate the stress of navigating a new city on my own. I researched the tours offered through Rick Steves Europe and found a Best of London in 7 Days tour. This tour would hit all of the highlights – Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, the British Museum, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Globe Theatre, and Borough Market. I remember getting teary-eyed as I read through the itinerary thinking “Wow! This could really happen!”
Another factor in this trip was that my all-time favorite singer/songwriter Richard Marx was playing three shows in London at a venue called Union Chapel. His European tour was originally supposed to take place in March 2020 and, well, we all know what happened with that. His tour was postponed and rescheduled a couple of times because of the pandemic. When the London dates were rescheduled for this October, I decided it was now or never. The dumpster fires that we’ve all been through in the past two years reinforced that life is short, and you shouldn’t put off fulfilling your dreams.
Here at home I’ve seen Richard Marx in five different states, so the next thing on my bucket list was to see him in another country (namely England!). I bought the concert ticket first and then booked the Rick Steves’ Best of London tour that would end a couple days before the concert, giving me a few extra days in London on my own.
I am so blessed to have so many people in my life who have traveled to England before, and thus were able to give me invaluable tips and advice. Shout out to Amy Foster, Scheben Branch Manager, who encouraged me to take this leap even before my plans started taking solid shape. There’s just something about the library world that attracts anglophiles, isn’t there?
The trip could not have gone better. When you dream, plan, and anticipate something for so long you think there’s no way it can live up to your expectations, but it totally did, every bit of it. Our tour guide, Gillian, was a warm friendly British lady with a great sense of humor. She was extremely helpful in answering our questions about plans we had outside of our tour activities. I showed her the tote bag that I HAD to buy in the gift shop at the Globe Theatre because it had my favorite quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” Gillian exclaimed, “That is perfect! Although, I don’t believe you’re very fierce.” (Ha! If only she knew.)
It was definitely an interesting and historic time to be in London, with Queen Elizabeth’s funeral taking place just a week before I arrived. Our group walked through Green Park and saw all of the flowers and tributes that mourners left in honor of their queen. At Buckingham Palace, there were still people milling around; Gillian noted that it was an unusually large crowd for a Sunday evening, as people were still drawn to the palace to pay homage. We took a train to Windsor Castle where we saw Queen Elizabeth’s final resting place, and we paid our respects.
Being the huge Beatles fan that I am, another thing on my bucket list was to walk across Abbey Road. I honestly can’t tell you how much, in the past 15 years, I’ve talked about someday walking across Abbey Road. The fact that it actually happened still seems surreal. There is a live web cam outside of Abbey Road studios, and some of my friends and family were able to watch me making this epic walk. The trek to Abbey Road was part of a Beatles walking tour done by a company called London Walks. Along the way we also saw the Marylebone Registry office where Paul and Linda were married, the apartment building where John lived with Yoko, and some spots where scenes from A Hard Day’s Night and Help! were filmed.
I’m also fascinated by the English tradition of afternoon tea. I’ve read several articles on the best places in London for afternoon tea, and Fortnum and Mason is always at the top of the list. Fortnum’s has been around since 1707 and is a purveyor of fine quality teas, foods, and other luxury items. The elegant Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon on the fourth floor of this historic building was opened in 2012 with Queen Elizabeth herself in attendance. Afternoon tea in this beautiful environment was a delight for all of the senses, from the live piano music in the background to the delicious sweets and savories. I sampled the Royal Blend tea as well as the chai.
As if the week hadn’t been eventful enough, the Richard Marx concert happened on my last night in London. With the general admission ticket, I purchased a VIP meet and greet pass. (If I’m traveling all the way to London to see him, I’m going to go all out!) The venue is a beautiful historic church built in the late 19th century that serves as a church, live entertainment venue and a drop-in center for those experiencing homelessness. (I think we in the States could learn a lot from England about multi-use public spaces.) The show was, of course, amazing. Richard himself said that Union Chapel has the best acoustics of anywhere he’s ever played, which says a lot for a career as long as his. It was the perfect venue for such an intimate solo acoustic performance.
When I walked into the backstage area for the meet and greet, Richard smiled and said “Hey!” Then he introduced me to his manager Sam, who was taking our photos. “Sam, this is Alisa Snow”… He knew my first and last name!!! People say to me all the time “He HAS to know who you are by now.” I usually just laugh it off and say “Well, he might recognize my name from Twitter.” (He is very interactive with his fans on Twitter.) To actually be standing in front of him and have him connect my face with my name was just indescribable.
I purchased Richard’s new CD Songwriter at the show and I forgot that I had it in my hand until Sam said, “Would you like him to sign that?” As Richard was signing my CD he said, “Alisa is a lifer. In fact, I’ve known Alisa for so long that I know she spells her name with only one L.”
I told him that I was seriously about to cry in that moment. To be known and recognized by someone that I’ve admired almost my whole life was just overwhelming. I also told him that this was my first time in London, that London has been my dream forever, and he is what finally got me there. He wished me safe travels on the rest of my journey and he said he would see me again the next time he is in Ohio. I honestly don’t remember the tube ride back to my hotel after that encounter. It definitely added to the surreal dreamlike quality of my whole time in London.
In closing, all I can say is that I am truly grateful to have had this experience. Travel opens your eyes, broadens your perspective, and helps you to realize that there’s so much more to the world than just your little corner of it. Also, the confidence that I gained in finding my way around a new foreign city on my own has made me feel like a new person. (By the end of the trip, I was navigating the tube system like a true Londoner.) I definitely have the travel bug now, and I’m already thinking about my next trip!
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