There is nothing like a coach trip to remind you how friendly the locals are and we were treated to a lovely outing to the Royal Albert Hall over the weekend. Hattons are based in St Helens and Julia booked it not really knowing much about them - they turned out to be fist class and Alan (our driver) and Billy (his assistant and side kick) were the very best in professional service and entertainment. They were so funny - ripping off the 'pie eaters' (people from Wigan) and each other....they looked after us really well and kept us well lubricated with wine and coffee too!
The journey south only took us 3 1/2 hours - we were dropped at our hotel near Heathrow and given an hour to get ready and then taken into London and dropped right outside Harrods - all lit up and looking a million dollars - you need a million dollars to buy anything there but its free to look! By the time we came out it was raining so we took shelter where we could in the shops and I really enjoyed the reflections on the streets of London - which are not paved with gold anymore - but with chewing gum!!!
We were then ferried to The Royal Albert Hall - which is everything that you see on TV - Rich, ruby red décor was decked out in Christmas Best and the Mozart Choir and Orchestra were dressed in period costume. It was the perfect setting for Carols by Candlelight with lots of audience participation. We were also treated to some great European Choral favourites - Like Zodak - The Priest and the Hallelujah Chorus sang so powerfully they sent shivers down the spine and I am sure mine were not the only eyes that filled up! It was just unforgettable .........lovely and Christmassy!#
After breakfast next morning we were taken into the heart of London and given four hours for shopping or sightseeing. We chose the latter and enjoyed walking around the city before the shops opened and the streets filled up with tourists and shoppers. The rain had cleared and we were treated to some wintry sun as we stood admiring Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. A walk up the mall and through St James' Park and we were back in nature watching squirrels and birds - the countryside is never far away in the UK.
They really go to town and dress the shop windows at Christmas. Each window in Harrods told a different fairy story but my favourite was Fortnum and Mason's (the Queens Grocer) whose windows depicted the story of Dick Whittington with the cat ready to pounce on some delicious treat in each scene.
Footsore and thirsty we headed for The National Gallery - no time to enjoy the famous artworks but the coffee and food was life saving and the view over Trafalgar Square a feast for the eyes. Before getting back on the coach we wandered through the Christmas Market at Hyde Park - an outdoor skating rink beckoned - but I learned THAT lesson last year in Pretoria - my skating days are definitely over! Heading back north - it was hard to believe that we had experienced so much in 36 hours. By now everyone was best friends on the coach - There was a Christmas card waiting for us from Uncle Billy and Alan and when it came to be dropped off...they took us right to the door to save us the taxi fare! That's what I call GREAT service!
Last night my dreams were a multi-coloured mix of London sights and sounds and I woke to the morning of 'night before Christmas'. Lots to do - a last minute shopping rush around town is on the cards! Merry Christmas!!!!