London, United Kingdom
An epic day and a half of travel from Ndali Lodge in Uganda to London, England involves a harrowing one hour drive from the lodge to the Kasese airstrip; an hour flight from Kasese to Entebbe; an hour flight from Entebbe to Nairobi, where we spend 10 hours in the airport, losing a night’s sleep; then a two hour flight from Nairobi to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a couple of hours in that airport; and finally an 8 hour flight from Addis to London. AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!!
We get to Heathrow at the very decent hour of 5:30 PM and imagine we have plenty of time to get into the city, check into our hotel and head out for a pub meal. NOT!! For starters, it takes almost an hour for our bags to appear. And once they do, Craig’s sceptre is missing. We wait hopefully and then get the brilliant idea to check the area where odd sized pieces, mostly strollers, are lined up. Viola! There it is! We had wrapped it in plastic in Entebbe, so I can’t see that it is actually Craig’s sceptre, but it is the only thing of that shape and so, without really thinking, I grab it. No sooner are we out of the arrivals area than Craig takes a close look at the wrapping on the stick and sees that it looks different than when we first wrapped it. ****!!! It is someone else’s walking stick.
Getting the thing back to the luggage carousel takes over an hour as security does not want to let us back in and is not particularly interested in our song and dance about how we came to possess someone else’s stick. Much bureaucracy and a special escort is required.
It is 9 PM by the time we leave the airport, 3 1/2 hours after we land. And the tube ride in to the city takes an hour. We have been traveling for 36 hours, have missed a night’s sleep, are ravenously hungry and now are bickering about who is to blame for the sceptre fiasco. Notwithstanding the fact that I was the one to pick up the wrong package, it is really Craig’s fault for buying it in the first place.
Nevertheless, the sceptre makes it to London. As do we.
Although VERY different from Africa, London is a remarkable city and we are enjoying the energy, vibrancy and diversity. A wee bit expensive, so it is good that we are only here for 3 days.
We spend an evening with our friends Donna & Ron and their son Kyle, from Vernon, who are on their way home from a trip to India. It was 30 years ago that Donna, Craig & I made that trip and so it is great fun to reminisce about what has changed (mostly us) and what has not (mostly the Indian bureaucracy, corruption and general ineptitude!!).
A day spent in some of the shopping ‘hoods is a study in contrasts. First stop is Camden market which is gritty, grungy and edgy. Next stop, Oxford Street, is the home of many upscale shops, including Selfridges Department Store, apparently owned by the Weston family. We only find this Canadian connection on google after we note the plaque at the store entrance, erected by the Westons. Who knew?!
Nothing can prepare one for a visit to Harrods! Our guidebook recommends the main floor food emporium, where we end up spending an hour, drooling, taking photos, and buying a bag of food to take away and eat on a park bench. Cheaper and way more delicious than the fish & chips we have been eating.
Covent Garden is London’s oldest square. Now home to a Starbucks, Disney Store and Pret a Manger (the ubiquitous food chain), it has lost some of its original charm.
The theatre choices are overwhelming. We decide on The Book of Mormon as it is a musical comedy about mormon missionaries in, of all places, Uganda. Irreverent in the extreme, it pokes fun at just about every aspect of religion and modern culture, leaving no group uninsulated. We laugh until our sides hurt.
The number of architectural sights is also overwhelming and, for a change, we do not spend all of our time visiting churches, museums, palaces and art galleries. We choose just two: the Victoria and Albert Museum and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The Victoria & Albert museum was originally built in 1852 to house an international exhibit of industry and its contents reflect that purpose in that most of the exhibitions are applied art. Furniture, jewelry, fashion, silver and ceramics. The building itself is a work of art and the garden courtyard a perfect retreat from the bustle of London.
St. Paul’s is magnificent, both inside and out. The views from the outer gallery of the dome, reached by climbing well over 200 steps, are worth the exertion. The London skyline in its 360 degree glory is the reward for our efforts. And it was some effort! Sitting in safari trucks for 2 months did not exactly prepare us aerobically.
As I always do when I am in a church or cathedral, I light a candle and say a prayer. Although not a religious person in the strictest sense, I do this because of my sister Judy, who is very spiritual, and who I know would appreciate the gesture.
As I am completing the candle lighting ritual, I think about our great good fortune to live in a country that provides such opportunity for its citizens. I hope that the children we have met in our travels in Africa can feel the same gratitude someday soon. I hope their leaders, governments, and civil institutions find ways to bring peace and prosperity to the land where we can all trace our roots.
I went to Africa with an open mind. I leave Africa with a more open heart.