Taking a tour of London over the Christmas holiday had such a romantic ring to it that I couldn’t resist signing up for a tour group a few years ago when I was still living in Germany. Visions of wonderful sights and maybe even a bit of Dickensian Christmas cheer floated through the ether of my imagination. The days until the group’s departure from continental Europe to the British Isles seemed to crawl by, but, like all good things, finally came to pass.
The group was set to fly over from Frankfurt to Heathrow airport near London. This was in the pre-“excessive-pat-down” era, when my valid passport and a quick pass through a metal detector was sufficient. I knew some of the others taking this tour and chatted amiably with them during the short flight (I think the time we spent in the Frankfurt airport terminal waiting to board was longer).
The tour group leader made sure, once we landed, that we all made it onto the tour bus awaiting us. Have you heard the expression “as challenging as herding cats”? The idea is that cats want to go off on their own. Well, our tour group was only slightly less well-behaved, but she managed.
We were a bit late arriving at our hotel, and the kitchen staff was closing down. We were all starving and also looking forward to the proverbial British “cuppa tea” after the journey. I don’t know how she managed it, but our tour guide overcame the chef and his staff claiming “It’s Christmas Eve!” and convinced them that they just couldn’t leave us unfed that night.
The British have a reputation for some rather — um — well — to put it mildly, less than edible cooking. I had been in London before and enjoyed some very tasty dishes: steak-and-kidney pie, a “full English” breakfast (fried tomatoes, bangers, toast, butter, jams, eggs, and a big pot of tea), fish and chips, and the lesser known fish and mashed peas (yum!). Sadly, these tasty dishes are considered more low-brow. The chef and his staff preferred to serve us something more high-brow (by British standards). Boiled beef, boiled potatoes, some kind of boiled “greens” that were no longer green, and tepid tea. Sigh! A lot of salt and pepper got it past my tastebuds (which are apparently set to “low-brow”) and into my stomach, which was sufficient for me to be able to sleep without my tummy rumbling too hard.
More mishaps were in store for our intrepid tour group.
The whole purpose of the tour was to see some of the more famous sights during the Christmas holiday. The brochure said this would include Parliament, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard, and shopping at such high-end stores as Harrod’s. Slight glitch. Everything in England, especially in London, despite its cosmopolitan airs, closes for two days over the Christmas Holiday: Christmas Day and the next day (Boxing Day).
The tour guide didn’t know this, but it was pretty obvious that the tour company did, since they had been booking these tours for years. There was quite a bit of grumbling among the tour group members, but we tried to be pleasant with the tour guide, who was apologetic in the extreme, and make the most of the trip. Mainly, we rode around London in the bus while the guide pointed to things through the windows. She did have some splendid last-minute arrangements for tea at a tearoom that opened just for us.
This was the highlight of the trip and made up for a lot of disappointment. Fragrant, steaming pots of black tea. Fresh cream and sugar cubes to temper and sweeten it. Scones that melted in our mouths even without the clotted cream and jams. Meat pies and fruit tarts, both with flaky crusts and plentiful filling. Finger sandwiches in a seemingly endless array. Each item is etched in my memory and the experience serves as a secret corner where I can have a cozy moment while I sip my tea, especially when hubby is not at home.
During the Christmas season, this cozy corner in my memory is like that seat by the fire for Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. May you have your cozy memories, too, and may your holiday times make even more for you to enjoy in the years ahead.
Don’t miss A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!
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