Friday, September 30, 2011
Rudolph & Laurita, London, 1968
A couple of years ago, I wrote about a scrapbook that I inherited by happenstance from my Aunt Laurita. She and my Uncle Rudolph, who as my maternal grandmother's brother was really my great uncle, traveled through Europe in the spring of 1968. They took a three-week American Express "Priceless Connoisseur" tour through England, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal. Aunt Laurita kept photos, receipts and other souvenirs in the scrapbook -- like the photo above of their tour group, with the Houses of Parliament in the background.
Aunt Laurita and Uncle Rudolph are on the left side of the picture:
The other day I got out the scrapbook to read about their stay in London. I thought it might be fun to revisit some places they'd photographed. Unfortunately, most of their photos in the scrapbook show tourist destinations -- Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London. Comparing them "now and then" just wouldn't be very interesting.
If anything had changed in the past 43 years, I thought it might be their hotel. So I went to check it out yesterday.
They stayed at the St. James Hotel, which is now the Crowne Plaza St. James on Buckingham Gate. My aunt preserved a brochure from the hotel, noting that they'd had to wait in the lobby when they arrived because their rooms weren't yet ready. (Oops!)
She also praised the beauty of Hyde Park, where she liked listening to the gadflies at the Speaker's Corner -- "my favorite place!" -- and noted that elsewhere in London "some Germany bomb damage can still be seen." Here's my uncle in front of the hotel:
In every photo from this trip, he's wearing a suit.
Here's my aunt outside the Tower of London:
Anyway, here's what their hotel looks like today:
It's quite an edifice. (I think the fountain shown on the brochure is in the courtyard, which is accessed through that open arch in the lower photo.)
What's even funnier -- when I visited London in 2000 with a friend, we had a few drinks in a great bar called Zander that I have always remembered fondly. Turns out Zander is still in this very hotel. It was a coincidence I didn't realize at the time.
In her scrapbook, Aunt Laurita saved her ticket stub from "Robinson Crusoe" starring Engelbert Humperdinck. She declared it a "good stage production."
And she and my uncle kept Easter programs from services at both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral, though I don't see any evidence that they actually attended the services. They were only in London for two days and their schedule was pretty well booked, so my guess is they just picked up the leaflets.
Aunt Laurita and Uncle Rudolph lived in Miami, where in the '60s they were probably seeing an influx of Cubans but not a lot of people from elsewhere in the world. In London, my aunt noted "many different nationalities in our hotel. Those from India wore their native dress, turban and all."
She also wrote, "We saw a massive protest march against the government taking over bus transportation, down Park Lane from Hyde Park toward Buckingham Palace." It probably had something to do with this.
I wish they'd gone somewhere really swingin', like Carnaby Street, but I suppose that wasn't quite their scene!