A Road Ritual

On the streets of London in January of 2013.

I’m on my way to London. It’s the 6th consecutive year I have traveled to London in January for an annual education conference.

It’s an interesting event where I have been lucky to meet hundreds of fascinating people. Every year we interview roughly 20 ministers of education from around the world and discuss the state of education today. It may not be as exciting from an outsider’s point of view as something like the Olympics, but it is an event I look forward to every year because every year it brings me to one of my favorite cities.

London has always seemed strangely familiar to me.

Maybe it’s because my parents spent the first year of their marriage there and I grew up hearing stories from that first, hectic year in a small apartment across from an Indian restaurant.

Perhaps it’s because many of the people I pass on the street look like distant Heald cousins. I say this knowing any UK cousins would be extremely distant considering my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grand parents jumped ship (literally) and took off for the New World sometime around 1640.

It is most likely because I’ve visited London more than any other foreign city and it IS familiar.

This is my 10th trip to the land of my ancestors and I know parts of the city well.

I have a path I walk from my hotel that first crosses the Thames at the Westminster Bridge, taking me past Parliament and Big Ben.

The Thames, Big Ben and Parliament at dusk.

The Thames, Big Ben and Parliament at dusk.

From there I walk to Westminster Abbey. No matter how many times I pass the Abbey, I am always in awe of it, it's storied past and incredible history.

Among the textured walls of Westminster Abbey.

After the Abbey I head toward St. James Park and the Horse Guard’s Parade. I can’t pass by without remembering the 2012 Olympic Games where I covered several beach volleyball matches. From the top of the stands you could see 10 Downing St and the London Eye in the distance.

Beach volleyball at the 2012 Olympic Games.

From Horse Guard’s I head through Trafalgar Square, past the National Gallery and towards Leicester Square. It’s the long way to Piccadilly Circus, but I pass my favorite coffee shop - Cafe Vergnano - where I can stop for a warm, pick-me-up.

Trafalgar through the trees in 2013.

Trafalgar through the trees in 2013.

After coffee I walk to Piccadilly and peruse the shops on Jermyn Street. I love walking through the rows of hats, scarves, and leather, the smell of sandalwood permeating the air.

After Piccadilly I head back towards the hotel, through Green Park and to Buckingham Palace. After watching the guards march back and forth a few times, I turn and begin the journey back, past Big Ben and Parliament, across the Westminster Bridge, and home to the hotel.

Passing Buckingham Palace on my way out of London in 2015.

Passing Buckingham Palace on my way out of London in 2015.

I have made this walk every year of the past six. It’s the first thing I do when I get to London.

I know there are many more paths I could take around town, but this one is my ritual; it grounds me where I am, and reminds me where I’m going.