Monday, May 16, 2011

Little London Blessings...

Matthew and I were pleasantly surprised to find out that the airline had automatically re-booked our itinerary.  Since we used frequent flyer miles to get to London we were supposed to have two US layovers before our flight to the UK.  We received a message that our first layover would remain the same but the duration of our trip was rebooked to fly directly to London.  That was a huge blessing to be able to have an overnight flight and arrive in the morning.  The next blessing was that although the plane was full, there was one seat next to us that was empty, so we were able to spread out and be more comfortable.

After sleeping through most of the flight, we arrived in London in the morning and Matthew's friend Alex, who owns a flat which recently became vacant in central London, graciously gave us access to stay there for our first few nights.  We took the subway, known as the "tube" to the realtor's office to get the keys, then were able to leave our bags at the flat while we toured around the city.

During our few days in London, we walked around and saw many museums including the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, and the Tate Modern which is a gallery of modern art.  Some of the incredible things we saw included the Rosetta Stone, a large globe with satellite pictures of the earth projected on it, a working telescope built by a 17 year old, and many, many other fascinating things.  We also went to an outdoor market called the Burough Market and sampled many delicious cheeses and fruits.

As we walked around London, I was struck by the number of languages I heard and the variety of ethnic groups and people I observed.  It truly is a melting pot here.  I was continuously trying to decipher whether people were tourists or locals.  It's very hard to tell.  Although London is a big city, full of people and activity, it does not seem to be as high paced as other big cities in the US such as New York and Chicago.  The buildings and architecture are historic and beautiful and there are many parks and trees and flowers embedded in the city.

I am so curious about the people here - how they think, what daily life looks like etc.  We spent time with some friends including Jeff, a friend of Matthew's from high school who now lives in London.  They used to play football together (or "soccer" as we call it!).  Jeff invited us to a party where he and his friends were watching EuroVision.  I had never heard of it before but apparently it's a huge event where each country in Europe sends a singer/musical group to compete.  They were shocked that we had never heard of it!  Each country performs then phone lines are opened for 15 minutes to call or text your vote and at the end of the show they announce the winner.  The show is broadcast live in every country - pretty amazing!  They told us that EuroVision was how the group Abba was discovered 30 years ago.  The voting is said to be very political as each country (since they can't vote for themselves) tends to vote for the countries nearby.  Everyone at the party joked that the best performer never wins because it's so political.  This year, the winner was the country Azerbaijan.

Matthew and I also enjoyed meeting up with our friend John and his wife Megan, for a nice pub dinner.  They are such a fun, sweet couple and we truly enjoyed our conversation together.  It was so interesting to hear their perspective about living in London - the food, the people, the reaction of locals to people from the US (like stereotypes about how Americans are very cheery or very loud!).  We had similar discussions when we stayed with Alex and Georgie for two nights.  Georgie is a Child Psychologist working in a hospital with children who suffer from OCD and other anxiety disorders.  I loved hearing about her work and the healthcare system in general (which is very different from ours in the US).

There are so many thoughts and observations that I find it difficult to capture them all.  I will end with one of the highlights (although it has all been wonderful) which was seeing Les Miserables on stage.  We purchased tickets (thanks to my mother in law Sandra!) about an hour before the show.  I have always wanted to see Les Mis on stage so it was very special to be able to do so in London.  We sat at the back of the theater in the second balcony but once the lights went down, it didn't matter.  Despite our jetlag and exhaustion, we were captivated during every moment.

The message and storyline are incredible as the main character Jean Valjean, a poor man who was imprisoned and served 19 years hard labor for stealing bread was then released from prison.  The real punishment was just beginning.  Although free from prison, he was now a marked convict and would suffer his life being known as a thief forever.  With no place to stay or means to live by, Valjean quickly finds himself stealing silver from the Bishop who was the only man that opened his home to Valjean.  When Valjean was caught for stealing again, the Bishop extends grace and forgiveness and even tells Valjean to keep the silver and begin a new life with it.

As the story unfolds, you see Valjean truly become a new man and in turn he blesses and extends grace to those he encounters.  It is a timeless depiction of unmerited grace that has the power to transform and make life new.

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