My grandmother, my aunt, and my great aunt came to Germany to see me graduate (or to celebrate with me shortly thereafter; suddenly my timeline is fuzzy) and to travel to London with my family afterward. We were going to take the train to Paris and then the Chunnel. This would've been a good deal more exciting had not Paris been under very tight security due to recent bombings and/or bomb threats and had we not seen Mission: Impossible with its tense, action-packed, chopper-in-the-Chunnel sequence.
The layover in Paris had been meant to be a group outing (we had at least three hours). Because of the security issues, though, the train station had closed off all of their short-term storage lockers. My dad, my brother, and I got to stay in the station with the luggage. (Wasn't a big deal for me because I knew I would be in Paris in another week or two with some of my friends on our European Adventure by train. That summary will be next up.) Incidentally, those three hours marked the first time I sat in a traveling apparatus terminal, trying not to be annoyed by the incessant, automated voice telling me not to leave my luggage unattended and to report any suspicious bags to the authorities. It was even worse that time because I had to hear it in French as well.
The Chunnel trip and train ride into London was rather uneventful. The Chunnel train was fast, and a lot of it was spent in a tunnel, and therefore with no scenery. I think this was the first time I had tea with milk; it sparked a brief fad for tea drinking in my life.
It was pretty much night when we got into London and made it to our hotel. There was some sort of problem with the hotel. Either we didn't stay in the first one we went to or the rooms weren't what they should have been given our number or both. All I remember is that we were all very tired and irritable by the time we found beds, and I think the first night was a bit cramped. The hotel we did stay in had a great restaurant with Egyptian cuisine, I believe.
We did some of the usual touristy stuff: London Tower, St. Paul's cathedral, rode the Underground, caught a couple of shows (I think I traded touring Buckingham Palace or somesuch in favor of waiting in line for tickets to The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables). Actually, the shows are what I remember most about this trip. I was excited about Phantom as I had fallen in love with the soundtrack four years before. My brother, however, was salivating over the chance to see Les Mis has he had fallen in love with the soundtrack a couple of years before. My mother was eager for both. The rest of our crew was more excited about London, silly them. :)
My mom and I saw Phantom together. It was a matinee showing, so we got the understudies for a couple of folks. The theater was actually quite small (not on par with the Swan), and our seats were quite good. It was an enjoyable show, but I remember being disappointed because it didn't resonate as well with me as the soundtrack did. Still, I was absolutely tickled to be seeing Phantom in London. (Speaking of The Phantom of the Opera, I did see a production in Chicago that was phenomenal. The last note of that show is still with me: the Phantom singing, "It's over now, the music of the night." I'm getting goosebumps just typing this. I saw it with my aunt on a quick weekend jaunt away from Notre Dame. Our seats were absolutely terrible--there was a great portrayal of the descent into the catacombs that we only caught the last portion of because we were too high up to see all of the stage. But that note...I wouldn't say it haunts me because it's a far too pleasant sound for such a negative connotation.)
Now, Les Mis was an experience. I hadn't listened to that soundtrack very much, so I wasn't as attached to any particular interpretation of the vocals and music. Well, except for one song. The teacher who had directed one of the plays I did in high school sang "Bring Him Home" a capella for a play. But instead of taking me out of the moment, hearing it sung as part of Les Mis and recalling my memory of it in another setting dovetailed to make a profound impact. Though Phantom is still my favorite of these two plays, I enjoyed my London experience of Les Mis a good deal more.
There are two other snatches of memories I have of this trip. One was going to the London Dungeon, which was a mostly cheesy house of horrors tour of the seedier side of London's history, heavy on the Jack the Ripper gore--I mean, "lore". This was my brother's "Must See" stop on the trip, of course. The other memory I have was browsing through Harrod's, London's (England's? was it a chain?) version of Nordstrom meets Tiffany's or something. I managed to scrounge together the money to buy a very cheap pen there.
I think if I hadn't just graduated and wasn't heading off on another big trip in a few days, I would've remembered more of this trip as I know we must've done more. If nothing else, I had to have stocked up on my favorite Cadbury's chocolate bar, the Wispa. Hmmmmm....Wispa.
Next Week: Europe by Train, 1996; Previous Episodes: click on the "Where in the World" label for all previous traveling adventures