I’ll be honest—when we planned this Pearl Jam Eurotrip, the city I was looking forward to visiting the least was London. We scored tickets to both London shows, but then we were going to have to figure out what we really wanted to see in London for two more days before we flew to Venice for the Pearl Jam show in Padua (Sorry, Milan–no festival shows for us on this trip. That’s a young man’s game…). I felt like my entire high school education was based on Europe and the greatness of Great Britain, so in my mind, spending four days in a city I thought I already knew everything about and a monarchy I cared nothing about seemed pointless.
Man, was I wrong!
We packed quite a bit in the 3.5 days we were London, and as we ride the Stansted Express to London’s northern most airport to catch our flight to Italy, I’m already planning our next trip to London—whenever that may be.
Our flight out of Minneapolis was supposed to leave at 5:45 p.m., but we didn’t end up leaving until 7:50 p.m., which put us at Heathrow around 10:00 a.m. London time—along with everybody else and their dog. The customs line ended up taking us about two hours to get through, and by the time we took the Tube to our hotel and checked in some time after noon, we were tired and hungry and behind schedule.
(Travel Tip: If you’re an American reading this and you’ve ever been told to not take a nap when you get to your foreign destination, completely ignore that advice. Go ahead—take an hour-long nap, go get something to eat, and then start your day. We didn’t do this and we paid for it both in time and quality.)
We stayed at The Belgrave in the Pimlico neighborhood in the southwest section of London. The Pimlico Tube Station is just a short walk away, so we were able to get anywhere we wanted to go quite easily. We had a hard time finding hotels or AirBnBs (we learned too late that VRBO seems to be the preferred site for Europeans) in our price range for London, but The Belgrave served our purposes well. The room was extremely small, but our only reason for being there was to sleep in a clean bed and shower, so we didn’t have a problem with the size of the room.
Running on fumes due to that previously-mentioned bad travel advice, we set out to find the Golden Tours hop-on/hop-off bus, which is part of the London Pass. We both like doing the hop-on/hop-off buses when we visit new cities because it’s a great way to see a city and get your bearings. Unfortunately, we were so tired that we didn’t really enjoy the ride, so it ended up being a waste of a day. We took the bus up to the British Library so I could nerd out on hand-written Shakespearean texts and so Jaime could look at a birthday card given to Julian Lennon by his father, John. On the back were the original lyrics for “A Hard Day’s Night”. Kind of cool! Plus, that part of the museum is free and will only take you about an hour.
After touring the British Library, our train of thought began to derail. We forgot to grab a map for the hop-on/hop-off buses pick-up/drop-off locations (Travel Tip: always grab a map!) and we didn’t have cell phone service, so couldn’t look up the stops that way either. Not only that, but both of us were hangry, and if we didn’t eat soon, people were going to get hurt, so we just said, “Fuck it” and took the Tube back to our hotel, first stopping by an English pub for a beer and an order of fish and chips that I never need to eat again.
After an hour-long nap, we felt rested and ready to rock! We took the Tube to the O2 Arena and joined the sea of Pearl Jam fans who were also making their way to the show. We weren’t able to get 10 Club tickets for the London shows, but we did manage to secure tickets on the 100 level. We sat down next to a Canadian named John who is also doing a Pearl Jam trip similar to ours (we’re hoping to catch up with him in Prague when we get there). We went through the initial questions every Pearl Jam asks:
Which show is this for you? (39 for me, 25ish for John)
Where else have you seen them? (He and I were both at Wrigley in 2013 as well as Fenway in 2016)
Are you chasing any white whales? (“Parting Ways” and “Tremor Christ” for me, “In My Tree” for John)
What are they opening with tonight? (I parlayed “Pendulum”/”Low Light”/”Nothingman”; John thought they were going to come out hard and fast, but also threw out “Elderly Woman…” as a possibility)
(I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again: this is the beauty of the Pearl Jam fan community—you might go there thinking you’re just going to see a concert, but you usually end up meeting very interesting people, staying in contact with them, and reconnecting with them at future shows. It’s like a family reunion except with much better music!)
When the lights went out, London lit up. A roar from the crowd greeted the band as they walked on stage, and the band opened the night with the subtle “Of the Girl”, which I haven’t seen them play since they opened with it in St. Paul in 2003—a lovely opening twist to start our PJ Eurotrip. The PJ Parley for the show finished out with “Low Light” and then “Elderly Woman…” (so together, John and I were sort of right). After warming up the crowd with those laid-back charmers, the band kicked down the doors with a string of rockers, led by “Animal” into “Brain of J.”
Ed then acknowledged the faithful, but we could clearly hear something different in his voice. Then Ed made an ominous confession: he had seen a throat doctor earlier that day, and things weren’t looking good. This made me nervous—we just planned a month-long vacation in Europe centered around eight Pearl Jam shows! What happens if his voice blows out and they have to cancel the tour?!
(I’ll tell you what happens…we get to travel around Europe for a month!)
After sharing that news with us, Matt Cameron clicked in “Evenflow,” and the London crowd did their best to carry the heavy load during the chorus, the voices soaring high into the rafters. We knew we had our work cut out for us as an audience, but we made the most of our moments, especially during the encore sing-alongs for “Last Kiss”, “Black”, and “Alive”. Despite our best efforts, though, it was painfully obvious Ed’s voice was in rough shape, and that made some of us very nervous about his status for the Night 2.
The set list debuted nine original songs to the tour, but two songs from the night stood out to me the most. The first one was “You Are”, which holds a special place in my heart. In February, 2003, one of my best friends died in a single-car accident. He and I taught together at the same high school in Rochester, and his death left me and our building with a massive void that could not be filled. He was a larger-than-life character that captivated anyone’s attention within earshot of him, and his uncanny ability to connect with people and make them feel like a million bucks was a testament to his magnetic personality. He was one of the first people to invite me to hang out when I first moved to Rochester, which meant the world to me because my best friend was 2,000 miles away in California at the time, and everyone else I knew was either in the Twin Cities or still in college. Over time, our friendship grew into a strong bond that saw the two of us frequently getting in to harmless “double trouble” together because whenever you saw one of us, you likely saw the other. After he died, the strong wind he put in our sails died with him. Our colleagues and the student body did their best to console one another, and they especially took care in looking after me. The moment that stands out the most to me, though, is the day I went to my office and found a card on my desk. When I opened it, I saw the signatures of my entire Humanities—Search for Meaning class—a group of students who examined the meaning of life through literature with me. During that class, I made my love for Pearl Jam widely known to them, and we would take time to examine their lyrics and connect them to meaning in our lives. As a class, we grew very close to each other as we bonded over finding and making meaning in our lives. So when the time came to reflect on why this tragedy struck our building, they took the time to turn it into a learning moment for me. When I flipped to the back of the card, one of them had written the following Pearl Jam lyrics:
Love is a tower
Of strength to me
I am the shoreline
But you’re the sea
I don’t know why they chose those lyrics or that song, but those words and that act of kindness and support have filled me with so much emotion that even to this day—over fifteen years later—whenever Pearl Jam performs that song live, I have to wipe away the tears from my eyes, and that’s what I found myself doing in Section 103, Row S, Seat 115 in the London O2 Arena that night.
That emotional roller coaster picked up a full head of steam during the next song. Ed introduced it as being a sad song that might have been true at one time long ago, and he explained that they’d never played it in Europe before, which caught my immediate attention. Holy shit! I thought. Are they going to play “Parting Ways”?! Then Ed plucked the opening progression—a beautiful, melancholy collection of notes that capture the complexity and uncertainty of the fading relationship described in the lyrics. Before the rest of the band eased their way into the song, I stood arms raised in a V, howled to the heavens above, and wiped more tears from my eyes—this time tears of joyful surprise. I had listened to Ed struggle vocally for most of the night, but during “Parting Ways”—visibly in pain, frustrated with his limitations, and sounding more like Tom Waits at times—Ed harpooned my personal white whale beautifully.
Even though the crowd had to carry a visibly-hurting Ed throughout most of the show, seeing one of my favorite songs from Binaural made this concert a memorable one for me. Unfortunately, we’d find out at what cost this would come the next day…
London Itinerary for June 18th-June 22nd
(Travel Tip: After some careful research on what to see and how to see it, we landed on the London Pass (LP), which gave us free entry to a multitude of museums, monuments, exhibits, palaces, churches, etc. It also came with a 25 Pound London Underground (Tube) card. If you’re traveling to London, I strongly suggest a minimum of 3.5 days and a London Pass.)
June 18th, 2018:
- 10:00-1:00–Arrived at Heathrow at 10:00 (two hours behind schedule). Customs took us two hours. Tube from Heathrow to our The Belgrave in Pimlico took us an hour.
- 1:30-2:30–Walked to catch the Hop-On/Hop-Off Bus and ventured around London by bus.
- 2:30-3:30–Got off the bus at the British Library (free for everyone) to see original manuscripts handwritten by Shakespeare, original Beatles lyrics handwritten by John Lennon, versions of the Bible printed during the King James era, and the Magna Carta. (Recommend 1 hour)
- 8:00-11:00–Pearl Jam, Night 1—O2 Arena
June 19th, 2018:
- 8:15-8:30—Walked around the House of Parliament and took a picture of Big Ben covered in scaffolding (for the next three years)
- 9:00-10:45—Toured Westminster Abbey (LP—recommend 2 hours with included audio tour)
- 10:45-11:45—Walked to Buckingham Palace and caught the tail-end of the Changing of the Guard (which starts at 10:45 and goes until 11:30)
- 11:45-12:45—Walked down the mall (with St. James Park to our right) from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square to Westminster Pier.
- 12:45-6:00—Boarded the City Cruises boat tours (LP) and rode up and down the Thames, with stops at Tower Bridge (LP—recommend 1 hour) and Greenwich Park/Greenwich Observatory (LP—recommend 1.5 hours); took our picture at the Prime Meridian line (well, the one just outside Greenwich Observatory because we got there at 5:01 and they stop admitting people at 5:00—no exceptions)
- 6:00-7:00—Caught a view from the Shard (LP—recommend less than an hour unless you make dinner reservations, which you definitely need to book in advance)
June 20th, 2018:
- 7:45—Ate breakfast at Pimlico Fresh again because it’s just that good!
- 9:30-12:30—Toured Tower of London (LP—recommend 3+ hours because it’s massive; audio tour discount with LP)
- 12:30-1:00—Walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral with a stop at The Monument (LP—but we didn’t go up because we didn’t know if it was included with our LP and we didn’t bother to ask)
- 1:00-3:00—Toured of St. Paul’s Cathedral including a climb to the top (LP—recommend 2 hours; audio tour included; no elevator, 512 stairs, great views!)
- 3:00-4:30—Ate late lunch at Dishoom (Indian cuisine—highly recommended! Jaime’s only London request and it was an excellent choice! Does not accept reservations, so expect to wait if eating there after 6:00)
- 4:30-6:00—Toured Churchill War Rooms (LP—recommend 1.5 hours)
- 6:00-7:00—Contemplated life and our next move in Green Park
- 7:00-8:00—Walked to The Black Dog in Vauxhall for bar food, drinks, and soccer (cool neighborhood bar that lets you take your drink across the street to the park—will even give you a blanket if you like!)
June 21st, 2018:
- 7:30—Ate breakfast at the hotel (best hotel breakfast I’ve ever had)
- 8:30-9:30—Caught a train to Windsor Castle (LP acts as your train ticket; just show it to the ticket booth operator and they’ll key you passed the gates)
- 9:30-12:30—Toured Windsor Castle (LP—recommend 3+ hours for Castle Grounds, Changing of the Guard, State Rooms, St. George’s Cathedral, and Queen Mary’s Doll House
- 12:30-2:00—Walked around the shops in the town of Windsor; ate at Meimi (Moroccan food with charismatic wait-staff)
- 4:00ish—Arrived back in London. Took a much-needed nap.
- 5:15—Took Tube to Blackfriar and walked across Millennium Bridge (or as the locals call it—The Wibbly-Wobbly because on the day of its debut it was declared open by the Queen at 8:00 a.m. and declared closed by London officials three hours later! It’s more sturdy these days…)
- 5:30-7:00—Dinner and drinks at The Swan (meh)
7:00-10:00—Two Noble Kinsmen at The Globe Theatre (because every nerdy English teacher should see a Shakespearean play at The Globe!)
June 22nd, 2018:
- 3:40 in the fucking morning—caught the Stansted Express to Stansted Airport. Next stop—Venice, Italy!
Today’s title is taken from Pearl Jam’s “Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town” off the album Vs., released in 1993.
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