This pub is deep within Kensington, and on that day, on the long walk to fetch my bag, winding through neighborhoods and trying to add fun to an unwanted errand, it looked like a mirage, a beautiful invitation to seriously, no, really, just stop and have a beer, nothing else is that important right now. In the middle of all of these stately homes, this perfectly manicured, flower-edged vision sat. Someone lives next door to that. They can saunter a few steps and sink deep into a pint, in this beautiful yard, among those beautiful houses, whenever they like.
That reminds me of one of my other favorite moments in London. We were taking a walking tour of Westminster, hence some of the earlier pictures, and we walked through an area where lots of politicians live, as it is roughly within the shadow of Parliament. We stopped to look at this light and that house and this former home of a major political party, and I lingered for a moment. A woman was walking in and out of her house, loading up the trunk of her expensive but sensible SUV with kid supplies for what I imagined was a few days away at a grandparent’s house. The pricey car, the much-coveted address, and her ensemble of a tastefully transparent white button-down shirt over a tastefully opaque white bra, matched with impeccably fitting jeans… I wondered what she thought of these tromping groups of tourists wandering up and down the street, and how unlikely it was that she and I had shared a block for a moment at all. She was the picture of a certain kind of assured, casual wealth, far removed from any group of tourists who’d saved up for months to take a trip to London, who found nine pounds for a history-based walking tour of British government to be a very fine deal indeed, who would probably commemorate the outing with the most British of Britishy pub experiences they could find within a few minutes’ walk of where we would leave off, Big Ben towering above us, ringed by the iconic and historic.
I loved the buildings and hearing all they’d been through. But really, I travel because of the unlikely crossing of paths. A politician’s wife and a writer from Seattle. Or, later, a Belgian film archivist. Or a Spanish chef in Brussels. A Russian housekeeper, handling the AirBnB her French artist employer rents out. I love art museums and walking along winding rivers, but what I love the most are the moments that could happen nowhere else, that required both the place and the person to be complete. Victoria Station and me, strange and inverted enough to stand among thousands of people but decide to stare up at a pigeon. That sort of thing.
It’s the situations and the curious alchemy that get me. Here are a few of those moments, none quite enough to merit an individual blog post, but something larger on their own, I think.
I am making a habit of taking pictures of do not enter signs at the magic hour. There are worse things.
I enjoyed the waffle-looking trellises at Westminster Abbey, but I preferred these guys.
This does not seem like a formidable amount of food until you get to that second scone. Also: did you know that you can have tea at a building connected to Westminster Abbey? It’s true! None of the guides told us such a thing existed. My smart cousin found this, and I’m so glad she did.
A view from the building behind Westminster. The legs of Queen Anne’s stool, gone all rosy in the slowly setting sun.
I made more Harry Potter references to Tom while we were in Versailles than I did in London, for unknowable reasons. But every now and, I saw a ludicrously cute (and sadly closed) tea shop…
…or this house, which surely is one gateway to Diagon Alley, and it feels like I should be in a long robe, carrying a broom. One of the things I enjoyed most about those books was how comprehensive a feeling they gave. Even though most of the locations were fiction, there was a reality of atmosphere that elevated all of the books.
And I am a trite American who goes to London and thinks on this no small amount.
And has a sense of humor with good, sophisticated highs… and wonderful, wallowing lows.
Though sometimes London met me halfway on that. I mean, come on, look at their domain!
But then there are these fine moments, like this indoor pigeon peering down at me from within Victoria Station. I’m sure this dude will be the main character in a children’s book very soon.
And the little girl in that book will live in this house with these wonderful front stairs.
And thus ends my London scrapbook. Next up: tumbling deep into Brussels, with all the good and bad that entails.
P.S. I wrote this post while participating in Hugo House’s 30/30 challenge. I’m writing at least 30 minutes a day all month. I post my favorite sentences of the day on Twitter. Please donate! I’ll keep writing regardless, but you’ll be encouraging me and supporting a great Seattle institution.