This amazing year is rushing to a close. In a week I have a boat to catch in Southhampton. Until then Anne from London, who, you will remember, just managed to get me safely over the Alps in her Deux Chevaux, offers me the floor of her tiny London flat. I gratefully accept – funds are running low. Once I figure out the tube I’m set. After a year it’s a relief to communicate in English again. Getting around is a lot easier when people understand what I’m saying – most of the time.
I crowd the fence with hundreds of others, standing on tiptoe to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Watching them, it’s easy to picture queens and princes, horses and carriages, tiaras and ball gowns – a fairy tale world inside these walls, one that I will glimpse one day.
Big Ben’s familiar chimes announce the hour from Parliament, and Westminster Abbey is close by. The organist is practicing as I walk among the graves of Dickens, Kipling, Tennyson, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Hardy, and touch the effigies of kings and queens. There is Elizabeth I and not far away, Mary Queen of Scots. Goose bumps. They ran out of room here in 1760 with the burial of George II. Monarchs must now rest in peace at Windsor.
A tube ride away is the Tower of London with its bloody history, now home to the crown jewels guarded by Beefeaters in costumes unchanged since the Tudors. Walking through all this history, seeing it, touching it. . . .
I’ve been careful to conserve enough to buy the cheapest ticket at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane to see My Fair Lady. It’s the original cast, Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, and my first- ever experience of professional theater. The costumes, the sets, the music (I already know most of the words), actors who wisk me to that other London – just magic.
I say goodbye to Anne. On my way to Southhampton I have my first unpleasant hitchhiking experience, but the driver stops, lets me out of the fancy car and I arrive unscathed.
The me sailing for New York on the Holland American Line is very different from the me who sailed to France a year ago. The people I’ve met, borders I’ve crossed, food I’ve tasted, things I’ve learned, adventures I’ve shared – they’re all to blame. There’s a hunger inside me now, and far from satisfying it, this year has only increased my appetite. Wanderlust thrives. And I want more. Somehow.