I’m starting the New Year in a pretty familiar place, even though it’s far away from home.
I’m with a group of 26 Wingate University students in London for the next nine days, leading them in the conclusion to our course in British news media and communication that they’ve been studying all semester.
I’m writing this at the end of our second day, actually, as the first is always spent in the arduous task of getting from one continent to another. They passed that test with flying colors — landing the same number of people you met at the airport is always a plus.
From Heathrow Airport we took a coach (British for bus, y’all) to Hampton Court Palace on the outskirts of London. First, because it’s interesting, one of King Henry the Eighth’s places built in the 1560s. Also, it’s one of the few attractions open on New Year’s Day and it’s an educational way to fill a couple of hours before hotel check-in.
On the way over, we passed through Runnymede, the site of King John’s 1215 signing of the Magna Carta, which established many of the rights enjoyed by citizens in the English-speaking world. There’s not much there to look at except a big meadow, actually, but it was neat to know we were here to start the 800th anniversary year of this important historical event.
I have made more than a half-dozen trips to London now, and I hope I never get so jaded that I’m “been there and done that” about one of my favorite cities in the world. But on this day, after stopping in at a hotel restaurant near the palace I remembered from a 2012 trip here — and introducing a small group of my students to baked beans, mild sausage and blood pudding for breakfast — I spent just a short time wandering around the grounds before heading back to the bus.
There seemed to be more people in line for the ice skating rink just inside the palace gate than there were on the spacious grounds, which include some beautiful gardens and what’s billed the world’s biggest vine.
But I had an educational chat with our driver who has driven around folks from the “X Factor” reality television show and a couple of English Premier League football teams. Found out he’s from Bletchley, which is notable in British history for being the center for encoding and decoding military messages during World War II. So not a wasted morning by any means,
After leaving the palace we wound our way around New Year’s Day Parade traffic in central London to get to our hotel. Our guide for the week took the students for a walk around the neighborhood to help them get their London legs.
After check-in, i indulged in a two-hour nap before unpacking and freshening up — with a bracing cold shower and shave I had to call hotel maintenance about — to go out, While doing so, I enjoyed the randomness of BBC2 Radio, which had Barry Manilow hosting a program of the best concert recordings by Frank Sinatra:
“She loves the wacky, wonderful, coo-coo wind in her hair…” Nobody like him….
The evening’s entertainment was a West End show. “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: The Musical” was nearing the end of a run at the Dominion Theatre, about a five-minute walk from the hotel.
I got a bargain-priced ticket at the box office, had a nice dinner of cottage pie (minced beef and gravy topped by mashed potatoes) at a nearby restaurant, and returned for the show.
It’s a high-energy re-imagination of the 1954 movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen.
The singing and dancing were top-notch, as was the conclusion. The cast asked the audience to sing along in the closing rendition of “White Christmas” and we were sprinkled by some fake snow that would have done Hollywood proud.
Free wi-fi and a pot of tea back at the restaurant and then back to the hotel. A good day and looking forward to more.