The train from Cambridge slowly made its way through the north of London toward Kings Cross Station. Alan had thoughts of downtown Chicago as he observed row after row of terraced housing. But all of London had them. They were everywhere.
Most of the train lines coming from the north ended at Kings Cross. Here it was, the well-known station from the Harry Potter movies.
He wasn't quite sure what to do with himself. He had found the hotel on his phone. Apparently, Heathrow airport was on the west side of town and his hotel wasn't far from it. But he had the rest of the day to look around London.
"Excuse me," he finally asked a man reading a newspaper. "If you only had a day in London, what would you see?"
"A day?" the man said in a quite different accent from Mr. Fox. "You Americans think you can see anything in a day. It's Tuesday. It must be London. Just go to your hotel room and watch the telly." Then the man went back to his newspaper.
"That was helpful," Alan muttered to himself. He finally spotted the entrance to the Tube, a large map of the lines and stations. What did he know of London? There was the Queen's palace, right? Buckingham Palace. There was Big Ben and the Parliament. What else?
London Bridge caught his eye. He remembered a tune from childhood: "London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down. London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady." A few tunnels and he was soon boarding the black line headed south.
London Bridge turned out to be nothing of any interest whatsoever. A sign told him that at one time this was the only place to cross the Thames River and that some rich American had bought the bridge in 1972 and reconstructed it in Arizona. What was more interesting was the Tower Bridge that he could see down the river, along with the Tower of London next to it.
He spent the next few hours just walking. He started at the Tower, where the kings had lived in the Middle Ages. Then he followed a path through Old London to St. Paul's Cathedral, an area that had been destroyed by a massive fire in the 1600s. Eventually he found his way to Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Parliament.
It was a different world from his. Chicago had its places to visit too--even a historic fire. But it didn't have buildings that went back over 500 years or monuments to battles of the past. The history enticed him. For the first time in his life, it called him to something bigger than the moment. It was the smallest sense of the vastness of time and space--whose immensity he had hardly begun to know...