Walking in His Shoes

Two years ago this week, Dad and I were in London. I knew we were there just before St. Paddy’s Day, but thanks to Facebook, I am getting daily reminders that this was the week in 2014 when we were visiting the Tower of London and eating ostrich burgers at the Borough Market, a wonderful outdoor food market which clearly serves very unusual food. (We chose the ostrich burgers rather than the kangaroo burgers after deciding to try something unusual.)

The tour of the Tower of London showed us how very proud the British are of their wars. We learned way too much about the many beheadings which occurred there and saw enough armor in one day to last a lifetime. Still, I am glad to have seen such a historic castle, which is located in the heart of London.

Knight and Horses in Shining Armor
         Knight and Horses in Shining Armor

We were there for the ceremony to honor our Irish-inventor cousin, but we allowed ourselves time to explore some of the sites of London we had not seen on our earlier trip as well as revisit some of our favorite spots.

I mentioned part of this trip earlier ( Grandpa: World Traveler), but not all the details.  There was so much I wanted to accomplish in a short period of time. I was torn between seeing the sites, knowing that we might never return, and visiting some of the places I knew Grandpa had been as a little boy on his way to Russia. Somehow, it all fell into place.

I had corresponded with a woman at a library near the hotel where he had stayed, so that was our first stop the day we arrived in London. Tired as we were, we arrived in London early in the day and knew we had to stay awake to acclimate to the new time, so we headed there shortly after checking into our hotel.

It was a very long walk, which was how I determined for my book that Grandpa’s family may have taken the Underground (the London subway) when they left their hotel and went sightseeing. Before walking those streets, I just assumed they probably went by foot.

I was so excited to learn that the building which was formerly the hotel still existed and was very close to the library. It was quite the adventure for me, particularly knowing I was walking some of the same streets Grandpa had done over eighty years ago.

The following day  we visited the Tower of London, had the ostrich burgers, strolled by Buckingham Palace where we bought a book for Bryce, and had a lovely Indian meal that night.

Although I wanted to take the train to Southampton, the port city where Grandpa’s family arrived from New York and where the Titanic departed on its fateful voyage, the trip would have taken the entire day.  We decided instead to see a show and finish seeing more London sites. It seemed more practical, although my heart really wanted to go to Southampton.

Fate was in my corner that day, because we could not get tickets for any shows we wanted to see. We headed to the Waterloo Station. There was a special very low rate that day, and after we purchased the tickets, we found that the train was leaving in just a few minutes. It was meant to be!

The train took us on a lovely ride through the English countryside, past quaint villages, rolling green pastures, and golf courses that naturally excited Dad. We arrived in Southampton quite hungry, so we ate lunch in a mall food court. We decided that every meal did not need to be special, and the purpose of this adventure was the town and the Southampton Maritime Museum.

London-Southampton Karen

The museum was not all about the Titanic. In fact, I saw more Titanic artifacts found on the ocean floor at our museum here at home than in Southampton. What was particularly interesting was a room set up as a court room, which recreated the inquiry in London to determine what happened.

I was thrilled to see a replica of Grandpa’s ship among the many displays—the Berengaria. I knew from my research that he had traveled here and on that specific ship, but to actually see it there alongside the Titanic exhibit was so special to me. Riding the train back to London—the same countryside that my family had traveled—was such an exciting and emotional experience for me. If I had to go home the next day, I would have been satisfied, but the adventures were not over!



Grandpa: World Traveler

By the time Grandpa was twelve, he was already quite the world traveler—visiting London, and Copenhagen, and Helsinki before finally reaching Russia. This is a condensation of what most of you know, but for my grandchildren and anyone who skipped over reading the details, here is what I learned.

His family left two weeks before Christmas in 1931, leaving out of New York City on a luxurious ocean liner—the Berengaria, which was built as the replacement to the Titanic. Seven of them were on this trip, traveling third class, which was surprisingly nice by that time. (Grandpa’s older sister, Anna, left six months earlier with his Uncle Mark.)

While they could not mingle with the first class passengers, they still had a nice selection of food for their meals, with linen and flowers on the table, and separate games and entertainment for them throughout the trip.

Three of the seven day voyage across the North Atlantic were rough, and Grandpa, his brother Pete, and mother all were quite sick on the third day at sea.

They docked in Cherbourg, France on December 18 and were able to see a French fort, some seaplanes, and several other ships which had left New York at the same time as them. They arrived at their London Hotel that evening after taking a train ride from Southampton, London.

When Dad and I were in London last year, we went to Southampton, which is the port city where the Titanic had left. It took us about ninety minutes to get there and was a nice ride through the countryside. Grandpa traveled at night, so he was unable to enjoy the scenery.

They stayed at a two hundred year old hotel called the Kingsway Hotel, which is in a very nice area of London. Dad and I went there and saw that although the building still exists, it is now used as an apartment building. We went to a nearby library and were shown a photo, which looks very similar to the building in existence today.

Site of Kingsway Hotel, Borough of Camden, London
Site of Kingsway Hotel, Borough of Camden, London

Grandpa’s family stayed in London until the morning of the 23rd, and while there, they played tourist. They saw all the typical sites such as Buckingham Palace, House of Parliament, the British Museum, and Hyde Park.

They took a train to Hull, England, which is a port city in northeast London on the North Sea, where they boarded a very small Finnish steamer for the trip to Helsinki, Finland. It was a very unpleasant voyage with heavy winds and rough seas. Christmas day was spent in Copenhagen, Denmark where they were permitted to leave the boat and walk around the city.

From Copenhagen, they sailed on the Baltic Sea, experiencing gale-force winds strong enough that the dishes rolled off the tables and everyone was seasick. On December 28, they spent the night in a hotel in Finland and walked around the snowy city where they purchased some souvenirs. After another train ride, they finally arrived in Leningrad on the eve of New Year’s Eve.

I think the cruise we took several years ago through the Caribbean was a lot more pleasant, so count your blessings, even when you think life stinks!