Valley Vagabond: Living London just before coronavirus changed everything

I recently went to London for my 50th birthday and 25th wedding anniversary. Life changed a lot while we was gone. A LOT.

As it turns out, we timed our bucket list trip well.

We left on March 1st, the day after King County Public Health announced the start of the coronavirus outbreak in our region. Having no idea what it would amount to, we decided to keep our travel plans. My big worry at the time was London wouldn’t let us in knowing we were from the Seattle area.

Not an issue. We were through customs in 10 minutes.

We paid attention to news at home as much as we could: more of you started working from home; more COVID cases were announced daily; new restrictive measures seemed to come each day.

Our last night there I was up at 2:30AM. I made the mistake of looking at my phone to make sure the kids hadn’t texted. And there it was – multiple messages from others… asking can you get home? Confused sleeping zombie me: Why the heck wouldn’t I be able to get home? A travel ban was announced my friends texted. Oh wait. Go back to sleep. It doesn’t include the UK.

Thanks, but now I’m wide awake now.

That was March 11th. Schools announced they were closing as we descended into SeaTac on the 12th. A few days later dine-in restaurants, bars and gyms shuttered. My son’s California college went online, forcing him to return home just as he was finally settling in to his new school.

Then came Governor Inslee’s ultimate restriction because so many people just couldn’t stay home over the weekend – a shelter in place order with a spiffy name: ‘Stay Home. Stay Healthy.’ It didn’t change anything for us: we already were staying home.

This last order is forcing the closure of my husband’s business.

So here we are – like so many of you – trying to navigate the Small Business Administration website to determine what loans the business can secure. In fact, so many of us were on it that it appears we broke it.

We’re home with an almost full house – minus the daughter living in New York City, which adds a new coronavirus worry.

The positives? We’re all healthy. We’re cooking more. We’re eating together more. We’re wasting WAY less food. We’re driving less. Family movie nights are more regular. My son and husband were playing catch in the backyard, something I hadn’t seen in possibly eight years.

The negatives? the adjustment; the high school senior thinking her year is ruined; more laundry; more cleaning; worrying.

But….

London was spectacular. We were extra cautious and sterilized more restaurant condiments, tables and grocery items than I care to mention. Hand sanitizer was our best friend.

I stood next to the tombs of kings and queens in Westminster Abbey. I waved to the queen because according to the flag, she was at Buckingham Palace. The Tower of London evoked terrifying thoughts as I walked around it. The Tower Bridge kicks the Brooklyn Bridge’s butt. It’s beautiful.

We stayed near Borough Market in a restored Victorian warehouse – across the street from a former graveyard for prostitutes that is now a tiny park (yes, you read that correctly). In the market I found Bridget Jones’s apartment and the restaurant where Hugh Grant was thrown through the window as Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver fought in the street. I walked through Notting Hill and found the house with blue door and the travel book shop. Museum walls still have mortar damage from WW II. I saw Shakespeare’s Globe. St Paul’s Cathedral was beautiful.

In Kensington we had a memorable lunch at Eli’s who made us the best falafel, fried Halloumi and rotisserie chicken. We bought fresh food from Borough Market and cooked some amazing meals – one of my favorite things while there. We drank some incredible, inexpensive french wine. We explored so many tiny, historic streets.

We walked a lot, but still tried the Underground which was great. We took a traditional London black taxi and rode the Heathrow Express train. Yes, London traffic sucked just like all the websites said.

A lot has changed in the two weeks since we arrived home. Some days I forget our trip happened. Other days I wish I was still there, enjoying walks along the river with my husband before reality was altered.

As we all move through this new coronavirus reality, community is on the forefront. We’re seeing it here in the Snoqualmie Valley. Getting takeout to help restaurants. Buying gift cards to support local shops. Mask donations for healthcare workers. Local employers still paying workers while their businesses are closed. Shopping for neighbors who can’t go out.

One day – after we’ve all emerged from this unprecedented time – my hope is we look back and remember the positives, even though the negatives couldn’t be avoided.

Hang in there Snoqualmie Valley! And give me some movie suggestions… and maybe your favorite recipes.

[Side note: London hotels and airfare prices are more reasonable in February and March, which was why we able to make this bucket list trip. We found a good airfare deal on New Year’s Day: roundtrip tickets on Virgin Atlantic, nonstop Seattle to Heathrow, were as cheap as $350 if you didn’t check luggage or want an assigned seat.]

Tower Bridge
St Paul’s Cathedral taken from 6th floor of the Tate Modern Museum
Buckingham Palace
Tower of London
Fruit and vegetable stall at Borough Market

Comments

  1. I’m so glad you got to experience this amazing vacation before all this happened- I am feeling very fortunate that I got to experience Rome and some other parts of Spain in October because it will probably be a while before I can think of going back – I think about all the people I met in Rome and how they must be affected right now- it makes me sad but I hope to go back some day and take my husband to visit all these amazing places with me, stay well 🙂

  2. Geoff Doy says

    Danna,
    All those places are on my recommended list for London visitors, staying in the area around Borough Market was a great choice, I am glad you had a good time.
    Geoff

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