London Eye, Palace, and Swans. So classic- London, England, United Kingdom - by Anika Mikkelson - Miss Maps
London Eye, Palace, and Swans. So classic- London, England, United Kingdom – by Anika Mikkelson – Miss Maps

To visit London at this stage in my travels was not part of the plan. To me, it seems like a place that ‘will always be’: that will always boast the same historical buildings and structures, same Royal Family, same eats, treats and same less-than-enticing downpour of a weather forecast.

Beyond the sameness I expect it to have for years to come, it wasn’t part of my plan for several other reasons. For one, the price of visiting the city is more remarkable than its history. For another, Prince Harry is currently abroad, doing charity work in Nepal. Thirdly, bangers and mash sounds just… not so good. Not to mention, London is 2000 kilometers from my most recent city stay in the Balkans.

We’ve learned many times over and over that not everything goes according to plan, nor does it have to. This, my loves, is one of those times.

Click on an image to view London’s picturesque sites up close:

 

A message arrived in my mailbox (virtual, of course) in December saying: “Hi Annie- don’t know where you will be on your travels at the end of March, but the girls and I will be in London and Galway, Ireland and Dublin.”

“Don’t know where you’ll be but…”

I don’t even know where I’ll be next week, let alone planning as far ahead as into March, starting in December.

I immediately replied to the sender, letting her know I wasn’t sure what my plans were, but that I would keep her updated. It seemed like a truly unfathomable trip. I’d been close before: in Paris, in Brussels, and with cheap flights between London and the US, it was an easy place to catch at some point in the journey. Yet it never drew me in all the way.
But this messenger, this woman and her two remarkable daughters… they made me change my mind.

My family has shared more with hers than with any other family, starting when Jill was assigned as my brother’s fifth grade teacher. Since then, twenty years have passed. Jill and my mom became best friends. Their dad and mine bonded over their love of all things duck- and plant-related.The girls and I shared numerous sleepovers, road trips, and haunted games of hide and seek in their ‘spooky’ backyard after watching classic haunters such as The Fog and Birds. We learned how to be ladies, how to speak French (well, we learned the one phrase my mom found most important: “Où est la salle de bain” : where is the bathroom). We were teammates, roommates, and more. Together we learned how to swim, how to try to act mature. We rolled down hills when life got rough, ran up them when we wanted to act sporty, danced to Bruce Springsteen from the cheap seats, and sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” together onstage in matching sparkly, satiny outfits.

These three have been a greater part of my life than my work, travels, photography, writing, and adulthood combined.

So why not try? Why not hope for the best, change up the nonexistent plans and head for London?

I marked my calendar, a tool so lovingly categorized and perfectly updated that it makes me wonder how I’d survive without. I wrote their exact travel dates and corresponding locations. Somehow, I was bound to make this happen.

 

Click on an image to view London’s picturesque sites up close:

In the meantime, I made arrangements to travel the rest of the Balkans, finding my final state to be Macedonia. I was to stay in Skopje for a few weeks working night shift at a lovely hostel via WorkAway.

Some external force was at work: A force that told WizzAir to turn their budget airlines into an even better budget-friendly resource and to shoot out discounted fairs into the universe. For ten euro, I booked a flight from Skopje to London. An extra ten euro got my carry on rucksack there as well.

I messaged Jill. “Is it still okay that I come? I could meet you in London for a few days!” I told her.

“Yes of course! I’ll tell the girls. They will be so thrilled!” she replied.

And there it was, there they were, there I’d soon be. I’ll spare you the nitty gritty details of my flight there: how the airline made me ditch 1/3 of all my belongings before they let me through security (it was that or pay an additional 50 euro), how I unsuccessfully bribed the attendant with chocolates and a book, or how I ended up layering on seven shirts and three jackets in order to lighten the weight of my bag.

None of that matters, because we had made it!

Click on an image to view London’s picturesque sites up close:

 

Arriving at their centrally located apartment, I rang for Flat #7 and down popped my curly haired darling friend. It’d been nearly two years since we’d last seen each other, and I couldn’t help but jump around as Emily came down the stairs to let me in.

Inside, Becca and Jill were waiting. Hugs, laughs, stories, and an appropriately early bedtime followed. They were still working off jet lag and I was one hour behind schedule so we all needed a good rest.

The next morning, Jill greeted us with her typical cheery self and two delightful cups of coffee to help our spirits reach another dimension. We carefully sipped on the frothy goodness, then hit the streets. We’d reserved tea for four at Kensington Palace’s Orangery and dressed for the occasion. Arriving just minutes past our reserved time, we sat down and ordered our own personal tea pots. From there, we were were served several plates of cakes, sandwiches and desserts. With clotted cream of course: Emily’s favorite from trips past.

We all decided upon a preferred treat: mine was a chocolate mousse served in a shot glass and topped with orange peel and orange syrup. Everyone had her own favorite, but with or without favorites we enjoyed every last crumb to its fullest potential. We thanked our waiter, a handsome man from Naples, Italy, and made our way to see all we could in London’s historic quarters.

 

Click on an image to view London’s picturesque sites up close:

 

Westminster Abbey as the Mayor spoke to the public in preparation for Maundy Thursday services.

Big Ben at noon.

Trafalgar Square’s reenactment of Christ the Redeemer (it was Maundy Thursday, after all).

Swans both black and white floating on the waters of Buckingham Palace. Yellow daffodils, joyful pups, steak and ale pies. We did it all that day. And that night, after a brief nap, we continued on a tour of the city.

 

Click on an image to view London’s picturesque sites up close:

 

Finding our tour guide by chasing after his orange umbrella, we approached a young man and asked if he was the man we were looking for.

“Are you Jack the Ripper?” I questioned.

Laughing, as if he’d never before heard the question, he responded, “Yes. Yes I am. Jack the Ripper Himself, Love.”

“Perfect. Teach us about London, fine sir.”

And he did. The three of us young’uns took a free Jack the Ripper Tour throughout the city. We learned that sneakers were named after and first adopted by police trying to sneak their way to success rather than stomp around in steel-toed boots. We learned of Prostitution Church, where all were free from the wrath of local authorities, as none could be arrested on hold grounds; we learned that each of Jack the Ripper’s victims was found cut in meticulous ways down their middles, and that he’d slit on each victim’s throat from left to right… leaving her lying one her back with her knees propped upward.

I wasn’t scared. No sir. Not after these girls had introduced me to horror films like The Birds and The Fog in my childhood.

Not scared at all. Not even when I woke up at midnight laying on my back with my knees in the air. Just like Annie and Mary Jane nearly 130 years ago. Surely, not a sign. Surely, not worth getting spooked. Nope. I just rolled to my side like the grown-up I am and slept peacefully, knowing these other ladies would be by my side after Jack the Ripper Tours, after life changing events, and after anything that might be thrown our way.

 

Click on an image to view London’s picturesque sites up close:

 

Twenty years and 4000 miles from where our story began, we were together again.

We awoke the next morning and wished each other a happy Good Friday. Becca and Emily stopped to share a strawberry tarte. Jill and I stopped for hot crossed buns. And we all enjoyed a final day of London sun before they left for Ireland.

At the train station, we all hugged goodbye quickly. They were off to Galway and Dublin for more adventures and time with their extended families. I really didn’t know what would come next, or where I would go next. But I did know the past few days were a gift unlike any other.

Twenty years, fifty years, from now… I do hope that London will still delight with its time-tried magnificence. Never will an opportunity like this arrive again. Maybe I’ll get to return, but if not, I have the very sweetest of memories to accompany the place – and a truly once in a lifetime opportunity.

 

Click on an image to view London’s picturesque sites up close:

5 Comments

  1. This post is bringing back fond memories of the three weeks I spent in London in 2014. I went with 14 university students who were studying abroad there. London had never been a city on my bucket list so I was surprised by how much I loved it. Thanks for the great photos.

  2. Thank you for the insightful wonderfully written post about our short time together in London. It meant a lot to me. And as always, your pictures are amazing.

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