“As you exit the aircraft, please remember to take all your personal belongings.” How many times have I heard those words from the stewardess after landing? My husband and I like to get a lot of bang for our buck, so we often book flights with a stopover when we travel to the United States. It’s an efficient and affordable way to see the world. Our recent trip to New York had a 13-hour layover in London. The rudimentary itinerary that my husband had prepared did not include major running around. There would be no “This is beautiful or interesting or fun, but we must move ahead” calls, in order to cover as much ground as humanly possible during every last second available to us. There would be no “Maybe we can run over to see the English countryside during the four extra minutes we have.” We would have a relaxing, entertaining, and stress-free day. Whatever we would manage to see would be perfect. And it was. Pretty much.
Our slight delay when leaving the airport was due to yours truly. Shortly after we left the plane, I realized that I had left my sheitel on the aircraft. As an aside, does anyone know why they always call the plane an aircraft? What’s with the allergy to the word “plane?” Whatever. Anyway, this was a bad thing to forget, particularly at Heathrow Airport. A split screen suddenly opened up in my head. One side showed disturbing flashbacks to the difficulty I once had retrieving another item I had forgotten at Heathrow. The other had a 3-D multi-sensory display showing the reaction of the cleaning crew just as they stumbled upon my brown sheitel wrapped in a clear plastic bag laying abandoned on my seat. The loud shrieks and looks of horror on their faces indicated their shock, thinking they had come across a dead animal. I would have much preferred to watch a third screen showing the positive experience I had when I left my jacket on our flight to Norway. Yes, I’m embarrassed to say but I do this a lot. When I described my jacket to the woman at the lost and found area, she walked over to the closet located right behind her desk, pulled out my jacket, and handed it to me with a smile. But focusing on this positive episode would not have helped me. I needed to get my sheitel back right away before it got sent to the lost and found for pets, or even the morgue. Obviously, the stewardess wouldn’t let me return to the “aircraft” but I handed her my boarding pass and she got it for me. Baruch Hashem, I was reunited with my sheitel and we were good to go.
When we landed in London, the origin of the London Fog Company name became clear. But by the time we left the airport, the weather had cleared up quite a bit. The tube, the easy-to-navigate London subway, took us straight to the city center. The fabric-covered seats were comfortable, with not a letter of graffiti to be seen.
Immediately upon coming out of the subway, we were greeted with the sound of gunshots. For real. Terror was not on our itinerary, and my overactive imagination began to race once again. Gunshots seem to be a constant feature in the news these days. But now? On the one day we picked to visit London? I began to calm down when I realized that the shots were not followed by screams or sirens. As it happened, we unknowingly picked an auspicious day to visit London. It was King Charles’s 74th birthday. And what could be a better way to celebrate than with a 41-gun royal salute from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery sounded in Green Park? Nothing I could think of. I’d never actually heard the sound of shooting canons before. When the salute was completed, The Band of the Scots Guards performed a rendition of “Happy Birthday” using the same familiar tune that is used in the United States. There was no cake, so I figured it was okay that we didn’t bring a present. The synchronized steps of the marching band blended with the cadence of the horse-drawn chariots as they paraded around the road near the palace. I will allay your anxiety right now. No need to worry. A horse ambulance accompanied the procession the entire time. The horses were in good hands. The Brits certainly know their pomp! It was quite a celebration! My husband’s birthday is coming up. And now I’m thinking that his favorite two-tier mocha-frosted vanilla cake may no longer cut it. Despite the fact that my husband was wearing a baseball cap which supposedly makes his Jewishness less obvious (Ha!), a chassidishe man visiting with his family approached my husband and asked, “Hamelech nimtza?” “Is the king here? We didn’t see King Charles anywhere but we were amused by the fact that one Jew can always spot another no matter where they are.
We spent the rest of the day walking around the city of London. When we finished walking, we walked some more. Despite being off-season (unless Prince Charles’s birthday is considered a national holiday), the area was teeming with tourists exploring the area. The rolling sound of carry-ons, including our own, was often the backdrop to the beautiful scenery. Saint James Park was a great place to see the last of autumn foliage, with its vibrant colors fading away. Visitors strolled with cups of coffee purchased from coffee carts scattered throughout the park. Duck Island, named for the lake’s collection of waterfowl, boasted a variety of ducks and birds, including pelicans. Walking along the Thames River, we passed The London Eye, Europe’s tallest Ferris wheel until 2006, Westminster Abbey, London Tower Bridge, the Prime Minister’s residence, and Big Ben.
In England, motorists drive on the left side of the road. This is potentially dangerous not only for visiting drivers who are not used to driving in the left lane, but also for pedestrians who are used to looking to their left first to check for oncoming traffic before stepping into the street. This is a hard habit to break. To help prevent accidents, some of the streets in the popular tourist areas have signs reminding them to look to their right.
The British locals were quite friendly and helpful. As I took pictures with my phone, a man came up to me and suggested that I put away my phone because there are many cellphone robbers in the area. I politely thanked him but truthfully, I thought he seemed a bit odd. That was until I saw a sign hanging on the wall warning people that cellphone thieves are known to operate in the area. I guess I had been too trusting of the locals. After asking someone for directions, a different man began to follow us. We thought he was also strange. In the end, he caught up with us and explained that he wanted us to know that the other guy had given us the wrong directions. He wanted to show us the correct way. I guess I wasn’t trusting enough of the locals.
No trip abroad would be complete without dining at a kosher restaurant. After snacking on old sandwiches and chocolate all day, it was nice to eat some real food at Reubens on the way back to the airport. And of course, it was great to return home to Eretz Yisrael. While we don’t have all the pomp of London, we do feel the real King’s presence very strongly.