Though I am usually terrified to fly, let alone across the ocean amid a time of unrest (Paris was still on everyone’s minds), the joy of seeing my daughter Jessica in London and plans already forming put the fear at bay, and off I went. The heart of the Christmas season and a ceremony of carols at St. Paul’s Cathedral were just the prompt I needed to go.
I had been there before, so Jessica, being the ultimate tour guide, had an itinerary planned with sites off the normal tourist path. Mindful of jet lag on my first day, we took a rainy walk up to Alexandra Palace, and though we didn’t get to see London’s skyline, we were rewarded with a ride back on a double-decker bus. After a home-cooked meal, I stayed awake until 8 p.m., and then finally went to bed.
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I awoke refreshed, ready to begin what was a day almost beyond words. It was filled with people wearing ugly Christmas sweaters and hundreds of others in varying Santa costumes singing and drinking all throughout the City of London and on the steps of St. Paul’s. They faded from mind when we entered to hear 14th-century songs sung by adult and boy choirs. Magnificent.
We walked across Millennium Bridge and along the Thames, where a Christmas market was set up, and snapped pictures of Big Ben and the Eye. Fish and chips at Masters Superfish finished that first full day.
The rest of the trip was similarly a whirlwind – mass at St. Etheldreda’s, the oldest Roman Catholic church in England; Sunday roast; a walk through Kew Gardens, decorated lavishly with holiday lights; shopping at Harrods food halls; afternoon tea at the Orangery; a tour of Kensington Palace; strolling in Hyde Park; the Christmas lights at Carnaby and Oxford Streets strung high to allow the buses to pass; the enormous Christmas tree at Trafalgar Square; souvenir shopping in Covent Garden; and cookie decorating, which was my Christmas present from Jessica. We learned the art through a class at the Biscuiteers School of Icing in Notting Hill, and it was a treat. Each of these events was as spectacular as the one before.
One surprise was kept for my last day. Jessica seemed disappointed with the rainy London weather, but I was mostly preoccupied with oohing and aahing over Tower Bridge. I understood her frustration, though, when there, within feet of those great walls, I saw an outdoor ice skating rink. Just as we skated out with colorful skates to upbeat music, the rain cleared. Even with puddles everywhere, the ice was as smooth as glass and blissfully uncrowded. It was a magical skating paradise. Magical was my word of choice for a great night and also for the time spent with my daughter.
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