12. Full Frontal with Naked Chef, London 2003
In the year of 2002, At the age of 40, I had decided it was time to make a go at having my own guided travel tour business. I had invested $20,000 of my own money to begin a Guided Travel Company and the final elements were being tested for one of my first trips. London, England. My company name was "Away for Week" and was intended to be just that. A week of travel to one central location to see the highlights plus some of the out of the way curious places I had found.
Following the tragic events of 9/11, the world was still adjusting to the new travel requirements to make movement around the world more secure. A year after that horrible day, I had already traveled overseas several times. I was more alert and aware of my surroundings. People in general were more edgy but life went on.
A year out from having my first trip, I planned a trip to London where I would put in place all the last details needed for a successful guided travel tour. I reached out to all my friends to let them know about my new business. My dear childhood friend Dawn from Dallas, TX, immediately called me and over that phone conversation, we decided that she would join me for my trip to London to sort out all these last minute details.
Little did we know that our highlight of the trip would be a run in with The Naked Chef. The Naked Chef was a BBC television series starring Jamie Oliver. Dawn and I watched his cooking shows from their start in 1999. Going into his 3rd year, we were hooked as both of us love cooking and eating.
Our surprise run in however was after a week of crazy events. Here is how it all transpired.
20 March, 2003.
My childhood friend Dawn and I arrive into London, England, her from Dallas, me from Atlanta, Georgia. At Heathrow International Airport, we found each other at the luggage claim area. The excitement was too much. We hugged and laughed. It had been way to long since we had seen each other.
We exited the nothing to declare area and started my all familiar walk toward the subway line.
As we walked past the news stand in the early hours of the morning, the newspaper headlines shocked us. While we were flying, the US and British allied forces had launched a deadly attack on Iraq. Calmly, I looked around and saw no difference in peoples behavior. If it had not been for this one photo covering every newspaper before us, no one would have known that an attack had even happened. Our plan to take the 50 minute subway ride on the
Picdadilly line into London was off. Notices were that all subway lines were suspended till further notice. So off we went to join the extremely long line of travelers in the Taxi line. Knowing there was much uncertainty in the world now and that our London experience would be altered somewhat, we patiently waited our turn while sharing stories and catching up on all that had happened over the years. Finally our time arrived, and we stepped into the gloriously roomy black taxi cab. Well over an hour later, we arrived at our Bed & Breakfast on Beaufort Gardens, just two blocks away from the famous Harrods Department store.
The streets were chaotic with traffic during our ride into London. With all transit suspended below ground, the multitude of people above ground had swollen to epic numbers. It was crazy. Traffic was at a standstill in a lot of places. Our suitcases made us stay and wait patiently in the cab. Finally, arriving at our Bed & Breakfast, we unpacked a bit and headed over for a bite to eat inside the Harrods Department Store. On the ground floor there is a very large food area where there are several places to grab a bite to eat. After a nice little lunch it was off to enjoy the full 8 floors of this magnificent place.
Jet lag started to set in. We headed back to our Bed & Breakfast just a few blocks away and took a nap. Back on our feet, we headed out for a walk since that was going to be easiest and fastest way to get around. We walked along Brompton Road away from Harrods onto Cromwell Road. On our right we walked past the beautiful building of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Already past 6 PM, the museum was closed but the exterior is majestic. We took a right onto Exhibition Road which ended at Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens. A left turn and there was the famous Royal Albert Hall. We walked around and noticed the signs for an upcoming concert. Our good fortune was that there were still tickets available. With our tickets in hand, we walked across the street and enjoyed the beautiful grounds of Hyde Park.
Over the course of the next few days, we took the double decker buses around town visiting all the amazing sites from Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Tower of London and more. Mapping out my tour and all the details of transportation, lodging, food and sites, we managed to cover a lot of ground in just a few days.
We had two days left to enjoy something different. Dawn decided that we should visit Wales. Why not. We hopped on a train and in 2 hours, we were in Cardiff, Wales.
Little did we know that on our train ride, we had been sitting in "Quiet Car". The whole ride we talked and talked. Only after we had exited the train did we realize that the glaring stares were telling us to be quiet. Not a soul told us to and we did not catch on that we were in a quiet car. Most likely we were living up to the "Ugly American" tourist title on that train ride.
We spent a glorious day in Cardiff, Wales, visiting Cardiff Castle and all the sites nearby. Seeing a local in a kilt made my friend Dawn go nuts. He was all to gracious in allowing us to enjoy some foto moments and some good laughs.
Back on the train to London, we made sure that we were not sitting in the "Quiet Car". During the ride, Dawn asks if we could go visit Jamie Oliver's restaurant called Fifteen in London. Of course. That was an excellent idea. We made our plans and started salivating knowing our meal was going to a real life event to the many TV shows we had enjoyed over the last few years.
We decided to go for dinner. After a quick change and a brief rest, we hailed a taxi and made our way to the North East part of town to 15 Westland Place.
We were delighted to at the cozy wonderful atmosphere inside. We sat at a table just to the left after entering the front door. We ordered an Antipasto dish, a main dish each and a glass of wine. We were like two little school girls. Giddy and happy to be savoring such mouth watering delights. As our main course was being finished, Dawn's big blue eyes lit up and about popped out of her head. She jumped out of her chair, ran towards the front door. Not knowing what was happening, I ran after her. Outside the door, it was pitch black. The darkness of the night just hung all around us. All I could hear was Dawn yelling out loud "Jamie, Jamie" as she ran towards a dark figure moving towards a black car on the side of the road just outside the restaurant.
"Jamie, Jamie" she kept saying. "Is it really you?"
In that beautiful British accent, the figure now becoming a recognizable figure to our night adjusted vision responded very politely with "Yes, it is I."
Dawn could not contain herself. In her now very recognizable Dallas Southern accent against the recent British accent could not stop asking questions. Jamie was a delight in answering most of them. Knowing he had to move on, we asked if we could have a photo moment with him. In the darkness, we handed a camera to the driver, and voila, our fuzzy out of focus moment with "The Naked Chef."
That moment for us have lived on for years and years. The memories of this chance encounter was magical. Thank you Jamie Oliver for being so gracious and for allowing two American girls to run you down for a chat and a photo outside of your Fifteen Restaurant in March of 2003.