My First Solo Trip: Day 4
I didn’t have a really clear plan of what I wanted to do this day, but I think that it was raining and so I decided I should spend the day indoors seeing a few more museums. I decided to go back to the Imperial War Museum because my father had mentioned wanting me to pick up a few of the 101st Airborne “crickets” I had seen in the gift shop on my first visit. My brother was in the 101st Airborne so I thought it might be a nice gift to bring home to him and my father.
So as not to waste another trip to the museum, I thought I might take the opportunity to visit a few of the exhibits that I had missed on Monday. I ended up seeing the Edmund Clark War on Terror exhibit, which I had mistakenly thought would be related to the ever-evolving methods of identifying and fighting terrorism. Needless to say, I was very disappointed when I realized that the exhibit is a very biased collection of evidence on the human rights violations brought about by the war on terror. To be honest, I wanted to leave as soon as I saw what the exhibit actually was, but decided to see it through to the end, out of respect for those whose opinions differ from my own. I also think that it is ironic that I visited this particular exhibit, considering the events that would unfold later that day, but more on that below.
After leaving the museum, I tubed over to Bank and set out to find Postman’s Park, which unfortunately turned out to be overrun by school children enjoying their lunch break. Instead, I decided to press on to the Museum of London. I had a quick snack in the Museum café, consisting of shortbread and a soda, before hitting the exhibits, which also happened to be overrun by school group after school group. I finally managed to escape the crowds and will say that I really enjoyed the exhibits on the London Great Fire, the women’s suffragette movement in London, and the Victorian Walk, which is set up as various streets and shops depicting life from that era.
After perusing the museum from top to bottom, I made my way back to Postman’s Park, which was thankfully fairly empty. The park itself is a small green space sandwiched between several nondescript buildings. The main appeal for the park is not its greenscape, but rather a series of commemorative plaques located on a wall in the park. These plaques entail short stories of Londoners who sacrificed their lives in an effort to save others, which would prove to be another ironic point in my day. There aren’t that many plaques on display so it doesn’t take very long to read each one, some of which are deeply touching.
At this point it was mid afternoon. I decided to take a leisurely walk back toward my hotel, with the hope of grabbing a late lunch/early dinner in a pub before getting ready for the concert. I was passing by Trafalgar Square and St. James’ Park when I first saw several police cars and ambulances speeding toward Westminster. One of the police vans stopped near the rear of Number 10 Downing Street. I also saw a life-flight helicopter fly over St. James’ Park. I didn’t really think too much of what I had seen and figured perhaps a tourist had wandered out into traffic in the heavily congested area near Westminster Abbey and had been hit by a car. I stopped in to the Sanctuary House pub and was able to get a table for one. I finally logged on to the pub’s wifi (I didn’t have cell service) and saw a concerned message posted on my Facebook from one of my coworkers back at home. I also received a message from a cousin asking if I was ok. It was at this point, that I noticed everyone else in the pub acting strangely and gathering around the television. This was when I first realized that something bad had happened, so I quickly sent off a few messages letting my family and friends back home know that I was safe.
It didn’t take me long to figure out what had happened though there wasn’t much information at that point. The news reported that a vehicle had struck pedestrians on the Westminster Bridge and a Metropolitan Police Officer had been injured in what was then being reported as a separate incident. Not one word of terrorism was mentioned, though there was a scramble by the pub staff to secure all but one doorway in and out of the pub. Everyone was on their phone calling family and friends to ensure that they were ok. I might add that the pub and hotel that I was staying in was mere blocks away from the scene of the incident. Despite the events unfolding, I managed to enjoy a really good steak pie and chips at the pub and was grateful to be in a safe location amongst a group of other people even if they were all strangers.
The attack on Westminster is one of several reasons why I will likely never take a ride on the London Eye. I’ve always been skeptical of being trapped in one of those capsules for the half hour it takes to make a full revolution, but after learning that the people riding the Eye were trapped in those pods for hours that afternoon, with a full view of everything that was unfolding below, I don’t think I will ever be able to step foot onboard without having a panic attack. Something about being trapped with no escape route terrifies me and I feel sick just thinking about it. My heart goes out to all of the victims including the individuals on the Eye, who had no choice but to witness the acts of evil that took place below them.
I wasn’t sure if the concert I had planned on attending was going to be canceled or not, or if I would even be able to get to the theatre, but decided to head back to my hotel to rest, watch the news, and wait things out. As more information came out and it became clear that the attack was deliberate, I struggled with the idea of enjoying an evening out after such a tragic day. The more I thought about it, the more the famous London phrase “keep calm and carry on” kept reverberating though my mind. In the smallest act of defiance, I decided that I would do my best to go to the concert and enjoy my evening. I checked to make sure that the concert had not been canceled and then checked transport options. Most of the tube stations were still open, though the streets surrounding my hotel would remain closed for the duration of my stay.
I’d been dying to see 2Cellos in concert since I first discovered them several years ago. I had even taken the trouble to set my alarm for 3:00 in the morning the day tickets went on sale so that I could buy one before they sold out. The day’s events included, I had a lot of feelings going into the concert that night and I was unsure about attending a concert alone. What if there was another attack like the ones at the concert in Paris? Would it be weird to attend alone? Alas! I needn’t have worried, the concert and the London Palladium turned out to be amazing! I sat between a young French woman who was also attending alone, and a mother who was there with her pre-teen daughter. They were all so friendly and we had so much fun singing and dancing throughout the concert. Even the orchestra and conductor seemed to relax and just enjoyed rocking out after the tragic events of the day. There was so much applause and a standing ovation at the end, that Stjepan and Luka returned to the stage for an encore. While this was without a doubt the worst day of my trip, that night was truly the most special night I’ve ever spent in London.
This post is dedicated in memory of those who lost their lives that day:
PC Keith Palmer
Though they are gone from this life, they will never be forgotten.