While dining at a favorite Benicia restaurant several years ago, a group of our friends discussed upcoming birthdays and decided that when we all turned 60 in 2012, we would celebrate in Paris. A dinner napkin was signed and dated to assure our commitment, and thus began plans for a European adventure. Tom and Patty Gavin, Patti Baron (who came for support since she is a bit younger) and the Strawbridge’s put together five sets of calendars and found ten days in May to seal the deal. Passports were obtained for the first timers, and air, train and hotels were booked—three days in London, five in Paris and two in Venice. The big question from the female contingency was: what we were taking to wear and how many bags could we bring? The reality was that each of us had to be able to maneuver our own bags. Since the weather reports included everything from rain and 40 degree temps in London to a balmy 80 degrees in Venice, layering of separates was essential. I packed leggings, tunics, gloves and my faux leather bomber. Since walking would be the rule, I brought patent leather Mary Janes and a pair of boots. Utilizing coats and jackets as my anchor, I was able to be comfortably chic while walking my legs off.
Arriving at London Heathrow, a huge welcome poster with a smiling Beefeater greeted the jet lagged Americans ready to take on the UK…. after a nap. Our hotel was directly across from Big Ben with a view of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Situated next to the River Thames and the giant London Eye, the location proved to be the perfect spot to experience the heart of England. London was abuzz with preparations for the Queen's Royal Diamond Jubilee and the Summer Olympics. Flags and banners proclaimed these events and retailers were offering themed merchandise that included royal commemorative china and tea towels with the Queen's picture, mugs inscribed with "60 years a Queen" and Alexander McQueen's Union Jack crystal clutch.
The double-decker red tour busses gave the group an overview of the City from one end to the other. Favorite sites were Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace and Knightsbridge, the home of Harrods department store. Harrods is a must-see for even the most reluctant shopper because of the depth of merchandise covering five acres. The grand halls of food are astonishing with the displays of breads, meats and fish that resemble works of art. We found the men a wine bar in which to occupy themselves while the ladies explored a maze of the best merchandise in the world under one roof.
Our British invasion included Kensington Palace, where Princes William and Harry were raised, and where Harry and the new royal couple, William and Kate, now reside. The exhibit “Diana, The Modern Princess” is included in the palace tour’s ticket price. Some of her famous gowns are displayed in an elegant theatrical set. Wallpaper, illustrated by artist Julie Verhoeven, highlights some of Diana's defining moments as a fashion icon. One memorable piece was the Emanuel black strapless gown Diana wore for her public debut after the announced engagement to Prince Charles. It was controversial for the time because of its revealing décolletage and has never been publically displayed. The sleek black Versace dress that the Princess of Wales wore several times in the 1990's was also a favorite, and showed her fashion evolution.
We attended a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, participated in services at Westminster Abbey, visited the Tower of London, where the Crown Jewels to be worn by the Queen during the upcoming celebration, are housed. We set sail down the Thames on our final day in merry old England, feeling a bit worldly and a bit royal.
As we prepared for our journey to Paris, we realized that 60 years is not only a big deal for the five of us, but also for England and its Queen. Long live the Queen and long live our tour group!