So there we were. In London. Safe and sound. The tunnel did not collapse while we were crossing the Channel. And St Pancras International left me open-mouthed! Those of you who are unlucky enough to land in Paris at Gare du Nord from Northern Europe or Great-Britain will understand what I mean.
Gare du Nord is a very unsavoury area. Dirty and rather disreputable. St Pancras is modern, clean and very welcoming. And they even welcome you in English and French! “Par ici la sortie! Welcome to London!”
My first British cab driver was rather grumpy even though we never uttered one single word in French. I was appalled by the camera inside the cab that was recording all our moves… Not that we moved much considering the size of the cab and my huge bags in the way.
Popeye had booked us into a grand hotel as usual. Right in the heart of London. Not the City. More like in-between Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. Within walking distance of the whole caboodle. London, I mean!
During our ride from the station to the hotel, I gaped at every building, every street, e-ve-ry-thing. I was in London for the first time in my life and I loved every second of it. I was falling in love with a city I had wilfully avoided through aeons of time.
All my friends have been to London. Most of them several times. (It is rather trendy for French people to go spend the week-end in London thanks to the Eurostar.) I had never been to London. Never. Not even once when I was a student majoring in English. And I am still wondering why. Popeye went to London quite a few times when he was much younger. Swee’Pea did too. Not me. And as much as I kept dreaming of visiting cities like Dublin or Copenhagen, I never contemplated travelling to London. Ever.
And yet there I was, so happy to be there. So surprised to be this happy. Maybe I was feeling a little bit disappointed though. It was sunny and bright. Where was the London fog?
And the answer came at once. I’d have to come back. Many times. Just the way I go to Madrid - whenever I feel like it.
“Let’s go take a walk, Swee’Pea! Let’s go…”
We left the hotel while it was still daylight. We walked around for so long that it was really dark when we got back.
There were hundreds of tourists milling around. Lots of young people. Lots of French young people. Eating fish and chips of course. And drinking beer sitting on the sidewalks and on Westminster Bridge. I have to admit that I am not a big fan of young French tourists anywhere. Oh well. They did not manage to hamper my enthusiasm.
Night fell. We kept walking. I had left my camera at the hotel purposefully. Sometimes it is very productive for a photographer to stand back so to speak. Refraining from using one’s tool and allowing feelings and impressions to flow over. Refining one’s vision. Like sailors testing the wind before sailing away.
We were walking peacefully and aimlessly. And Swee’Pea drew his iPhone! First picture. I could not resist! Using a phone might be a lot of fun after all. You won’t believe it but I practically never take pictures with my phone. One needs to draw the line somewhere! A phone is for calling or texting. My cameras are for taking pictures.
Our first night in London was so mild, bewitching. And I committed an act of sacrilege. I drew my iPhone and took a picture. Well, it wasn’t bad. I took a second one… and never stopped until we left Great Britain three weeks later. (Which does not mean I did not use my Nikon. I did use it a lot, believe me!)
I remember that we walked through a place called “The Horse Guards Parade”. It was sandy, of course and there was a very strong fragrance in the air - horses had really been there not long ago. It was very dark and deserted but there was a cat sitting in the middle of the square watching us with great interest. Pedestrians, just imagine!
On our way back to the hotel, on a street way out of the touristy route, very calm and quiet, footsteps resounded behind us. Very hurried and hobnailed footsteps. The man overtook us quite easily and disappeared very quickly. Quite an apparition on a London sidewalk! Imagine a huge man carrying a leather attaché case. Very distinguished. Well-cut dark single-breasted jacket. White shirt and dark tie. Full dress kilt hose. Tartan kilt. Black brogues.
My first Scotsman. In London. Looking like a banker or a Member of Parliament. You decide! Impressive, very impressive!
One lonely cat and one Scotsman. Horse scent all over the place. Red telephone boxes here and there. And Big Ben chiming in the distance.
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What a dream! And we were part of it!
*Good Night, and Good Luck*