Twelve years ago, I was freshman in college studying for a music degree when our band director, who’s name escapes me now, announced that a few of us would be joining a local high school as chaperons on their field trip to London. I was one of the first to sign up, and come the last weekend in December, I found myself on a twelve hour plane ride from Missouri to London International Airport.
It was cold and rainy when we arrived, and far too early in the morning to be reasonable. On the other hand, the double decker bus we piled into was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. It was a good thirty minutes before the novelty wore off, and by then, I was too enchanted by the architecture to mind.
We arrived at the Thistle on Trafalgar, which I was disappointed to discover was not a good hotel. It wasn’t the worst I’ve ever been in, but the rooms were tiny and smelled of mildew. Traveling on a budget, I suppose. The elevator boasted a capacity of 20 people, but refused to budge with only twelve people crammed into it. And I do mean crammed. It was an experiment, and I’m shocked we got that many in. Fortunately, we didn’t stay in the hotel for long before we were whisked off to a tour of London and some cathedral or other.
The next day, after a rigorous session of marching practice, we were off on another tour, where we saw Hampton Court, a lovely place where peacocks roamed the grounds, and you could walk right up to them. I was enchanted by one in particular, a gorgeous white who seemed to enjoy showing off his plumage for me. From there, we visited Stratford Upon Avon and a small cabin that claimed to the birthplace of William Shakespeare. That was actually pretty boring; I better remember the bookstore we found a few blocks away.
Day three saw us at Madame Tussuad’s, getting our picture taken with James Bond. (When I came home, my grandmother asked why I didn’t get the picture autographed. She couldn’t tell the wax figure from the real Pierce Brosnan.) We spent most of the day there terrifying each other with stories about ghosts and corpses encased in wax. My favorite was down in the torture room, where an awful smell was meant to simulate the stench of rot and death. Naturally, the smell was achieved by leaving bodies under the floor.
The Buddy Holly musical was town that week, and being a band, we had to go see that. It was also very boring, little more than an excuse to have a concert. I remember it best because that was the day I got completely lost. I didn’t want to walk the long way back, you see, and I needed some time to myself after three or four days crammed into a small space with twenty-five people. So I took off in a direction that I knew was right, intending to find the cross street and possibly make it back before anyone else. Well, I was partially right; I was going the right way, but I had neglected to figure out what the cross street was and walking about five blocks out of my way before I found my way back. No one noticed. I’m still not sure how.
Strangely, the moment I was most excited about is the one I remember the least. The parade was cold, but I was sweating in my uniform. I think I got winded halfway there and stopped playing, and I couldn’t even see the Queen. Still, visiting London was an experience I wouldn’t trade, and I look forward to going back one day.