I had never been to Europe, more specifically London or Paris. I had come to love both cities through favorite films and books: visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral with Mary Poppins and the bird lady, visiting Westminster Abbey as I watched royal weddings on TV, and traveling to the Eiffel Tower with my favorite characters in the movie Condor Man. Tea and scones were something I started serving my granddaughters when they were preschooler’s, a tradition that was combined with going to the Nutcracker once they were in elementary school. While I always thought I would travel there someday it simply hadn’t happened.
In the mid-summer of 2015, about 5 months before my stroke, I had the delightful surprise of being invited to join my daughter, two of my granddaughters, and two other friends for a 5 day dream trip to these historic and beautiful cities.
My daughter Tracy had encouraged us to make this kind of trip a priority, because “you just never know what may happen and our opportunities could slip away!” We knew she was right, but didn’t feel urgent about it, “someday” still felt like a good answer whenever the idea came up. So, the actual invitation to go felt like a lot to consider, and after quite a bit of deliberating I decided to say yes.
The date for the trip was early December, Christmastime in London and Paris! I could barely believe it was happening – but indeed it was!! A month prior to the trip dear friends upgraded my seat from Phoenix to London, they wanted me well rested when I arrived and First Class provided one of those private sleeping beds for the long overnight! What a generous and thoughtful gift!!!
On the evening of December 16th I boarded a nonstop flight to London with my granddaughter Allison. We landed at Heathrow airport to be greeted by the rest of my traveling companions,Tracy, granddaughter Katy and dear friends, Tracy Hanson and Mary Jane Hamilton.
The trip was delicious, delightful, and yes – a whirlwind! Our first stop after leaving the airport was high tea at Royal Albert Hall, followed by shopping at Harrod’s. The shops on the streets were all decorated for Christmas and small ensembles were singing carols!
Our first full day in London we took the tube and as we exited the station I was greeted by Big Ben, it felt surreal. That day I stood on the steps at St. Paul’s Cathedral, where the bird lady sings “Feed the Birds” in Mary Poppins. I sat inside Westminster Abbey as they set up the life size nativity scene nestled in freshly cut noble firs with delicate white lights. That evening we attended the Royal London Ballet and saw The Nutcracker.
The following day we took the train to Paris, traveling through the Chunnel. It was almost more than I could take in as we drank cold glasses of sparkling cider and Prosecco traveling through the French countryside. Our time in Paris included a visit to the cathedral at Notre Dame, lunch on the deck of the Eiffel Tower, Starbucks along the River Seine, and French onion soup on the Champs Elysees near the Arch de Triomphe!
There were many historic scenes I had seen in the newsreels as a young child at the movies during World War Two, places I’d dreamed of seeing for most of my life. I found myself surprised as memories of watching those newsreels as little girl began filling my mind. I remembered seeing footage of St. Paul’s Cathedral still standing amidst so much rubble and was taken back to my nightly prayers, with my own mother and sometimes my grandmother, when we would pray for the families in London and Paris. I remember how deep my concern was for the children who had to hide and seek cover during the nightly bombings in London.
I was not expecting to be taken back to such vivid memories with my mother and grandmother while on this trip 70 years later with my own daughter and granddaughters.
I couldn’t have known what it would mean to me to walk those streets. To have the unexpected connection with my own mother and grandmother while on this fabulous trip of a lifetime was a sweet gift. The trip in every way felt “over the top”. The sights, the food, the conversations, the memories provoked. I returned home with heart full, and to this day I hold all of that close and with such delight.
And, little did I know that 5 months later I would have a stroke that would change my life in ways that would make taking that trip today difficult, if not impossible.
I will be forever grateful for that trip and the priceless memories!! And my advice…listen to your children!!!!
Pat Sloan was born and raised in Arizona where she still lives today with her husband of 56 years, John. Together they were on staff with The Navigators for 30 years. She is a bible teacher, mentor, disciple maker, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. In 2016 she survived a stroke and now holds even more deeply that every minute is a gift. She loves caramel lattes, finding the perfect gift for those she loves, and spending time with her husband, family and dear friends.