Sigh. That is the sound a little stuffed bull makes when his holiday in London is so very nearly over. Oh yes, we may actually be still be in London technically as I type this up on my little atomic-powered bull-sized laptop in the International Departures Lounge at Heathrow Airport, but we'll be on our way home very very soon. Sigh.
Which is not to say today has been a sad and slow day, oh no sir, no siree bob's your uncle. To avoid the possible Tube Strike we were up and about, bags packed and checked at the front desk of the Copthorne Tara, our last complimentary breakfast of ham and buns and hot sweet tea under our belts (note: I do not personally wear a belt), and we were out into the bright clear morning, so much clearer and crisper than yesterday's soggy day. Our target: one of my favorite museums of all (and that includes everywhere, not just in London): The Victoria and Albert Museum.
There's a clever little "sneaky way" to get into the museum from the Underground tunnel, and we emerged towards the back of the museum, so even though our original intent was the gift shop, we were able to wander through a large portion of the V&A as we made our way to the front. I have a special fondness for the V&A that I probably can't do justice to in mere words; really, you ought to go there yourself! Go to see the amazing room of art forgeries that would probably impress even Lovejoy, or the extensive collection of fashions through the ages (Marshall was especially entranced by the moddy, Mrs. Peel-esque Mary Quant designs!).
But by far my personal favorite part of the V&A is the mind-bogglingly immense hall that houses the famous Raphael Cartoons. No, silly, these are not his drawings of Garfield and Blondie, but the fantastically huge full-scale designs for a set of Papal tapestries. I know very little about Papal things (except, perhaps, the Papal Bull), but I know what I like. You can stand in this cavernous room and gaze up at the billboard-sized art for hours; it's an illuminating and exhilarating experience. I highly recommend it.
As I do the V&A gift shop, which is almost as illuminating and exhilarating! Honestly, this is one of the best museum gift shops in London (second in my view only to the London Transport Museum gift shop), and whether you're in the market for designer jewelry based on famous pieces in the V&A collection or (on a little stuffed bull's budget) an amazing selection of postcards, you'll find wonderful souvenirs for yourself and gifts for friends back home here. There's a lot of replica Victoriana for sale here, and my favorite purchase today was a small pocket-sized set of picture cards which, when laid edge to edge, create a continuous and connected country scene no matter which order you put the cards in. I will be all the rage at home when I return with my Victorian picture cards...everyone will be jealous of me! Whee! But yes, I will let everyone play with them. Except for The Other Camilla, because she will steal or bend or eat them. (Shudder.)
John's endless worrying about if we might get trapped at the V&A due to the tube strike was completely foundless, and we returned to High Street Kensington in plenty of time to walk through the back streets of Kensington towards a familiar and favorite restaurant: like our first meal in London, our last meal would be at always-delicious, always-dependable Pizza Express. In celebration of the season we split the delectable Christmas Pizza, with hot sausage and savory herbs. I think I may have found a suitable replacement for turkey dinner on December 25th next year! Naw, on second thought I'd hate to give up turkey...so I will campaign to have them both.
We wander back along Kensington High Street, peeking in the windows and down the alley mews for the last time this trip: Look, there's Waterstone's! One more glance at W. H. Smith's! Oh, I will miss you, Boots the Chemists! And then the shuttlebus is there to pick us and our massive lumps of luggage up, and we're swept away, down the expressway towards Heathrow, and I stare out the back window at the receding silhouette of London and sniffle, just a little bit.
So I sit here now in the International Departures lounge, and that's not altogether a bad place to be: chock-a-block full of wonderful shops for last-minute souvenir buying, I at last empty my little change purse of the final few pound coins and buy some more presents for friends back home. And when I look longingly at the giant Toblerone bar in the duty-free shop and check my empty purse fretfully, John smiles at me and plucks up the chocolate, places it on the counter and pulls out a fiver. "This one's on me, Bully," he tells me, and the trip ends the way it began, but even better: with a yummy, yummy Toblerone, but better yet, with wonderful, joyful memories of a fantastic and fun holiday.
They'll be calling us to board our plan soon, and then the next time I set foot on the ground it will be in New York, and no one will be speaking in British accents anymore, and the soda pop will be Coke and not Lilt, and the subway announcements will say "Stand clear of the closing doors" instead of "Mind the gap," and I will be home, and London will still be in my thoughts and dreams, but not outside my window.
At the end of one of the Paddington booksan excellent series of stories about an intelligent and clever animal that goes to live with a friendly familyone of the characters comments quietly as Paddington leaves for distant shores: "He'll be back. You can count on it." And yes indeed, in the very next book he was back, and adventures continued, full of fun and excitement and delight. That's the way I look at London. I've been here before, and I'll be here again. I can't wait, of course, but sometimes the waiting, and the thinking, and the planning, and the dreaming are all fun too.
So cheers, London! I'll see you again someday. I'll be back....you can count on it.