London in Winter

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014


“Are you sure you want to be in London in the dead of winter?

This was dear hubby’s query when I told him in October that I was invited to join a famtour group that would go to London in January 2014 onboard PAL’s brand new B777.

I thought to myself that if I was able to survive a snowy and windy Chicago winter when I was a student there ages ago, surely I would be able to bear the London winter.

And one more thing - it was time I revisited London after an absence of 24 years.

The first time the hubby and I set foot in the UK was in the spring of 1988 and then we went back in the summer of 1990. We were very fortunate to have good friends stationed there who took us around London and its outskirts. We will always be grateful to German diplomat Hans Gross and wife Cherrie (Duterte), and to Bobby (then working with PAL) and Cynthia Castillo.

This time around I went with friends from the travel industry and yes, a frigid winter was on the menu. However, we were much relieved when our British guide Barry told us that in contrast to the horrible winter in America, this year’s winter in London has been mild with no trace of snow and no temperature below zero. With PAL’s Marijo Araneta as our enthusiastic tour escort, we were all set to make the most of our winter interlude. Aida Uy of Cebu Fortune Travel made the land arrangements but she couldn’t join the trip, so she sent her travel savvy daughter-in-law Cathy instead.

(Thank you, Aida for booking us in a hotel that was walking distance to the shopping district of Oxford st.).

Mild or otherwise, winter in London was still biting cold to us, and at times wet and windy. But then, no chill nor drizzle or gust could ever detract from the spell of London in winter! A dreamy haze seemed to hover around the city, giving it a surreal look. I was getting re-acquainted with London but this time it was in a winter setting.

The renowned landmarks were very much part of our itinerary... like the Royal Albert Hall and the nearby Albert Memorial, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Westminster Abbey (where Prince William wed Kate Middleton), the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral (setting of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding), the Tower Bridge, the historic Tower of London with its display of the Crown Jewels, the River Thames where the London Eye (the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel) is harbored, Hyde Park, St. James Park, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, the iconic Harrods, and more.

Buckingham Palace was one of our major stops. The Queen was not in residence as shown by the flag on the rooftop. Of course we didn’t miss Big Ben. In fact, we were walking by the towering clock when we heard its famed ding-dong at 12 noon. We had lunch at the Borough Market where all kinds of ready-to-eat goodies are available at very reasonable prices - cooked food, breads, cheeses, fruits and veggies, juices, nuts, exotic meats and all else.

Its newest eye catcher in the city is the Shard, an 87-storey glass-clad pyramidal tower that is part of the London Bridge Quarter development. The observation deck has been operational since last year.

Walking around the streets of London on a cloudy winter day was an adventure like no other. It was a world away from our comfort zones but then it was a once-in-a-blue-moon chance to experience something novel, something out of the ordinary from our day to day lives here in the tropics.

We were thrilled taking in the feel of winter and the sensations that come with it. No problem really since we were adequately “wrapped
up.”

Sunday found us off to different directions but Stonehenge remained a common denominator. There were those who chose to take the tour to Windsor Castle, others to visit the lovely Georgian city of Bath with its Roman Baths, some went to the university town of Oxford and a few took a look at the impressive Salisbury Cathedral, but everyone ended up in Stonehenge to see the ancient stone circle considered the most important pre-historic site in England whose origins remain a mystery to this day.

A trip to London is not complete without a theatre experience. We had ours at the much-applauded “Mama Mia” show. As for shopping, which is always part and parcel of travel, we had our fix at Primark, a favorite store of the locals because of its reasonable prices. We also couldn’t leave London without a foray into Marks and Spencers, a homegrown English establishment. We enjoyed shopping to the max!

London marks PAL’s return to Europe after an absence of several years. The direct flight takes anywhere between 13.5 to 15.5 hours, depending on the tail wind, but the hours pass quickly because there is a wide choice of entertainment onboard - movies (comedy, drama, romance, detective, etc.), music (classical, old favorites, popular songs, original Pilipino music, well-loved native melodies and more), TV shows and games. And the food?...you can be sure rice is offered during meals (we were served thrice during the flight). What I love most about PAL’s new B777 is the presence of a spacious handicap-friendly toilet. It is big enough to accommodate a wheelchair and for non-wheelchair users like me, it was perfect for freshening up and changing sleep-crumpled clothes to a decent-looking, winter-friendly arrival outfit.

With PAL’s new direct flight, London which is one of Europe’s greatest city, is just a hop away.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 13, 2014.

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