Through my travel with EF Educational Tours, I met a guide, Alan Drake, in England who also happened to be an actor. When his British play, Kissing Sid James, was performing off-Broadway in NYC, he invited my family and I to attend. There, we met also met his co-star Charlotte McKinney Smith. From that point, we formed a friendship. Alan and Charlotte visited my high school as guest actors to provide my students with acting lessons, and Charlotte made a solo repeat engagement the following year, after they we spent ten days with them on tour with another group of students in England. Charlotte and their son Louis stayed with us for a few days while Alan was touring Brits around New England. The following year, we made a detour from our Italy anniversary trip to see the McKinney Smith/Drake family, now with a new addition, Joey, in London. During that trip, talk of a wedding led to an invitation. They booked their wedding for September 30, 2017, the same day of our 28th wedding anniversary. Of course, we would attend.
We stayed 2 days in London in Trafalgar square before heading to Stratford Upon Avon for the weekend wedding festivities. In London, we toured Buckingham Palace, which we’d never done before because they only conduct tours when the Queen isn’t in residence. It was surreal being in the palace of some many royals that I’d read so much about over the years. Moreover, I’d begun watching the Masterpiece Theater’s Victoria who established so much of the palace’s decor. While we waited to for our tour time to come about, we took a bike tour of Chelsea, seeing the homes of Vivien Leigh, Bram Stoker, Roger Moore, David Bowie and Mick Jagger. We learned Mick Jagger’s local pub, The Phoenix, a place you could find him on most Sunday nights, is in Chelsea, a beautiful upscale neighborhood. Our hotel overlooked Trafalgar Square– such a beautiful view, and in a location one could easily maneuver around the city. We wandered around Seven Dials and Neal’s Yard in the evening, settling at an old favorite Covent Garden for a traditional fish and chips dinner with some ginger beer. The next morning, we circled back to Sweet Treats where I at my favorite scones with a cappuccino.
On Friday, we took the train to Stratford. Charlotte and Alan booked Alveston Manor, said to be the first setting for the performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Such a quaint inn with a statue of Shakespeare on the front expansive lawn. At night, they hosted cocktails on the rooftop bar of the Royal Shakespeare Company theater where we met a lot of the family and friends, and even a tour guide I’d recognized as one who toured us around Windsor Castle on previous tours. The wedding, the next day, was held in a beautiful Town Hall just up the street from the RSC. It was a beautiful, sunny day for a wedding enriched with daisies and a beautiful song performed by one of Charlotte’s friends and a reading of a poem by their eldest son Louis. It couldn’t have been more beautiful. We returned to the manor for some “cheeky bits and nips” (appetizers and drinks) before sitting down to dinner. The friends of Alan’s with whom we sat were such lovely, friendly and interesting people. The dinner seemed typical of a wedding celebration in the states, but instead of clinking glasses with spoons to get everyone’s attention/for the bride and groom to kiss, they used a great big spoon and hit at table hard. It was that tradition that made me realize that culturally we are different; although, the language we speak is (mostly) the same. After dinner, they announced a break when they would break down the room to turn it into a dance floor. Most people migrated to the bar or their rooms during the hour hiatus. When we resumed, disco lights and balls and a dj with a big dance floor took up the space that had been full of tables and chairs. They also set up a buffet for later eating. Afterwards, we stayed in the bar with many of the people we’d sat with earlier. Everyone wanted to meet the Americans, something I hadn’t anticipated. Alan, in his toast, gave us a lovely shout out about coming the furthest and he wished us a happy anniversary. As a surprise for Alan, Charlotte had contacted Paul McCartney, as he had emailed them his commendations after he saw them perform Kissing Sid James, the play that brought them together. Sir McCartney sent a lovely arrangement of flowers to wish them well on their wedding, signed by he and his wife. A little slice of royalty for their wedding.
By train we returned back to the hotel we left, The Trafalgar St. James, for another three days of our trip. We’d visit The Victoria and Albert museum, also a first for us. I really enjoyed their art and stained glass exhibits. We took a ride on the London Eye, a staple to our visits in London. Because we loved Seven Dials so much on the first leg of our trip, we trekked back there to have dinner @ Tredwells, chef Marcus Wareing, for one of the most exquisite meals I’ve ever had. I texted Ryan to see if he’d heard of the chef. He responded, “Yes, and I’m a little salty you’re there and I’m not.” Later, we went to the Hippodrome, a casino unlike the casinos, here, in the states. I felt like I was transported back to what a speakeasy would have been like in the 1920s. The next night, we had reservations at Dinner by Heston, chef Heston Blumenthal, one highly recommended by our chef son. The meal was exquisite– each plate a work of art.
We had such a fantastic Anniversary. I want to thank Alan and Charlotte for the invite, as it made the whole experience possible. It was a lovely wedding and an adventurous anniversary celebration.