Jolie and I hit the road at the crack of dawn. A cab driver picked us up from her house at 7:00 AM to embark on the two hour journey to the airport. His car was enormous, and so was the trunk. It could have held 7 passengers, or two American girls and their bags. I’m impressed that he could lift mine. Not every cab driver can.
It took us two hours to get to Heathrow. Jolie’s flight was at noon and mine wasn’t for another 24 hours, so no one was worried. I’d gone to bed so early last night I still got a full night’s sleep and was feeling much chattier than my usual morning self.
It wasn’t until after Jolie left and we said our tearful goodbyes (knowing we wouldn’t see each other for as many as two whole days) that the cab driver and I made a connection. He asked me how long I’ve been here, because he was sure he’d picked me up from a station once.
As it turns out, he is the very same cab driver who I met on my first day in London. You can read about it in blog post number one. He took me from Paddington Station to Victoria Station and was just so kind. He could lift my luggage then, too. What a small world and a strange bookend to my experience. Coming to London for the first time and leaving it for the last time.
At the airport, I deposited my bags so I could head back into the city and enjoy one last day. I am using the same carry-on bag that I came with, but the size requirements seems smaller. I could get it to fit into the test thing if I sat on it, but one of the American Airlines reps cheekily pointed out that I couldn’t sit on it to get it in the overhead bin. Then I couldn’t get it back out, so things were not looking good. A man who works for American then walked by and effortlessly pulled it out with one hand… So it’s a little dubious, but I reeeeeally hope they let me on the plane with it tomorrow.
Yesterday I saw a poster for a Rossini opera at the Royal Opera House. I mentioned it to Marcos and he said we could probably score cheap tickets the day of. The Piccadilly line goes straight from the airport to Covent Garden, and as he hadn’t even left the house yet I went myself.
There was only one ticket left for tonight. Marcos told me to go on and get it for myself. It’s my last night in London and my last chance. Besides, when you have to sleep in an airport, the more time you can kill elsewhere the better.
I grabbed some lunch and the decided to head over to Westminster Abbey. It was one of the only major London sights I’d somehow missed. To my shock, it cost £15 to go inside, and that was the student price. At this point, that’s half of all of the money I have left–but even on an average week, that would have been half my budget for food.
I paid the price and went in, and I am glad that I did. I was just disappointed that a religious institution would be that much of a scam when it’s supposed to be upholding a higher moral standard. I can’t be surprised, though, given it’s history. I just wish we could move past that.
They have to search your bags before you can go into the Abbey. I was carrying around this huge thing I was hoping to pass off as “handbag/personal item” to get it on the plane tomorrow. 80% of this bag is occupied by Howie, the bear that Matthew gave me for Christmas. I told the man searching the bags that he was going to laugh when I opened mine. He looked like he was a little concerned, but did laugh when he saw it and told me I was right. They let me in.
Westminster was sufficiently impressive. I really enjoyed walking down the aisle where princess Kate walked on her wedding day. I saw some graves, my favorites being those of Charles Darwin, Elizabeth I, Mary I, and Mary Queen of Scots. Especially Mary Queen of Scots, actually.
The whole experience felt thoroughly British. Afterwards I visited the attached Abbey, and there was an exhibit about the coronation of the current Queen. This was awesome. There were many photos I’d never seen before, and I can just never believe how young she was. They built temporary stadium seating in the abbey, and built an entire (temporary) wing to accommodate all of the priceless regalia and allow the processions to have space to prepare.
It was hard to leave the last of my London experiences, but I went on to meet Marcos. He and I caught up at Covent Garden a bit before the opera began. Marcos gave me a wonderful parting gift, a book called The History of English about the history of the English language. He said he had read it in college, and I’m really looking forward to it. It looks interesting. I know this is the second time I’ve talked about saying goodbye to him now, but I’m pretty sure this time was final. I’m going to miss having such a good friend. We’ve had some good adventures.
He walked me to the door of the opera house. For a second time today, things seem to have made a neat little circle for me. We met the only other time I’ve seen an opera in London, right at the beginning of my time here.
The opera tonight was a Rossini called La Donna del Lago. I unfortunately did not have the money for a program and therefore didn’t know the synopsis. I knew it was set in Scotland. The first moment that the first woman on the stage began to sing, I knew this was going to be incredible.
During intermission, when most people want to stretch their legs, I wanted to rest mine. The standing spot I was in also had a restricted view, but it was at the end of a row so I was able to duck around and see most of the staging. I just had to work for it. So, after nearly two hours of this, I was ready to sit.
I found a long bench off the lobby, and hadn’t been sitting there long when an older gentleman sat down next to me. He seemed very intent on eating a yogurt he had with him. I made a casual comment about what a good show it was, and we got to talking. Apparently, I’m quite lucky to have gotten a ticket. I guess you’re supposed to queue when the ticket office opens, not stroll in mid afternoon. He was an interesting fellow who lives in Oxford, and had almost not gotten a ticket himself for the show.
I went back to my standing place a few minutes early, but not much. Shortly thereafter, another older English gentleman approached me. Apparently, someone had vacated the seat next to him if I wanted to take it for the remainder of the performance. I don’t think he had even finished asking the question before I agreed to it. He told me later that, though he’d started several operas standing at the Royal Opera House, he’d always finished them sitting down. I guess the same is true for me, now. Two of two!
He was also loving the performance, and again impressed upon me how lucky I was to be there. Apparently, the show had been sold out for weeks because the cast included the two most talented (and most famous) singers in the world. He had queued this morning for one of the last minute tickets. Yeah, I’m very lucky. I’d like to think I could tell how wonderful the performance was, but I always question myself too much. It’s nice to have some affirmation.
Interestingly, both men commented that Kansas City opera was very good when I mentioned where I was from. Most people have never even heard of it beyond Wizard of Oz.
The one thing that bothered me about the production was a rape scene in act one that seemed highly unnecessary to me. The Scottish soldiers were singing about war, before a battle, and if ever a woman tried to pass through the set she was (violently) grabbed and eventually pinned beneath one (or more) men. There was another scene where they gutted a goat and spread the blood over themselves, but the former bothered me more. I guess that’s when you close your eyes and listen to the music. Which was sublime.
When it ended, the crowd gave quite an ovation. I think the singers got tired of bowing before the audience grew tired of clapping. Only one or two people stood (Londoners evidently aren’t as liberal with that as Kansas Citians) but did go so far as to stop the floor to augment the applause. I was impressed. The show was definitely good enough for it, though.
The Covent Garden tube stop, which is right outside the Royal Opera House, is on the Jubilee line–as is Heathrow Airport. So at the end of all this, all I had to do was elbow my way onto a lift, get on a train, and wait. It’s a long journey to Heathrow, but it goes fast when you don’t have transfers.
I was exhausted by the time I got to Heathrow, and I wasn’t the only one. For the last 20 minutes of the journey, it was only me and one family on the train. Of course, we happened to be seated directly across from on another when the train was full. The dad reminded me a little of my dad, who fell asleep chronically on the underground. Their older son had passed out even harder, with his head rolled back and his mouth hanging open. The younger brother was probably only awake because that’s the only chance he ever gets to have a turn playing with the family iPad, and the mom was only awake obligatorily since someone had to make sure they made it off the train. We all were headed to Heathrow.
I found a nice section of armrestless bench to cozy up on for the night, and for the first time in an airport I’ll even have my best with me.
It’s hard to believe that this is the last time I’ll be updating from Europe. Tomorrow, I wake up and get on a plane. I don’t even remember what it’s like to be picked up from the airport, instead of immediately having to figure out a way to navigate a new city. I know my Mom is excited, and the rest of my family and friends. But I’m really not. I’m sure I will be by the end of that 7 hour flight, and once I hit the ground. Right now, it’s just hard to believe. It doesn’t feel real, but neither do the past six months.
I have been so lucky to have this opportunity. I’ve been able to visit fifteen countries, explore countless cities, meet all kinds of wonderful people, and experience so many different cultures and their art and their way of life. It’s been challenging, exhausting, exciting, and endlessly rewarding.
I know I’ll be back someday, but I don’t know if it will ever be like this again. I can come over for a week or two, but I might never have this much time. It was crazy to be on the beginning of this, looking forward, and feeling limitless. I thought had all the time in the world. It flew by so quickly. I only wish I could have done more.