When you think of England, what is the first thing you think of. For a lot of people, they would be thinking about London. London was the first place I knew that existed in England. When I was younger- I think back in elementary school, I wanted to go to London just to see a guard. That sounds odd, but I was only young after all. When I think of London, a LOT comes to mind. July 31st-August 10th were meaningful: those were the dates that created the Bristol Pilgrimage.
Five years ago on the 28th, my family left for London. We went from Charlotte to Atlanta to London. My family took my sister and I early to get used to the time change and to get more out of London. We arrived the 29th at Heathrow Airport, but I did not even believe we were in London. I had to see West End filers to know that we were actually in London. Before leaving the airport, my family walked to Costa Coffee- we did that to make sure we met the other pilgrims at the right place. We ended up having coffee and food at Costa. We would have arrived what felt like the middle of the night.
The 29th and 30th felt we were just tourists. All we did on the 29th was walk around the Westminster Area- I did get to see a guard. It was actually the 30th where it felt like we were doing something. Our first stop was Platform 9 and 3/4 at King’s Cross Station. My sister and I were raised on Harry Potter- we both love the series. After that, there wasn’t much time to do much more- lunch, and then time to go back to the hotel, but first a stop at Paddington Station. After arriving back at the hotel, my mom and I had to get ready for Les Mis- not only did we have to get dressed, but also had to figure out how to get to the West End.
Seeing the Queen’s Theater was surreal. I thought I was imaging. While getting a quick bite to eat for dinner, I kept on looking at the Queen’s Theater. I did have culture shock in the West End- we were buying souvenirs and was surprised that the playbill had to be purchased. I also ended up with a poster and t-shirt. My mom and I also got a souvenir for a church friend, whose favorite musical is Les Mis. From seeing the theater to buying souvenirs to realizing I had an understudy for Valjean to seeing the set to seeing how close we were- all felt not real. But then, I heard them- the first notes of the orchestra. I do see the orchestra as a character- the orchestra did tell me something- that it would be more than expected. Those notes were not wrong: it was more than expected- not just by cast, but by the ensemble and staging. I literally stood up right away during the curtain call. The revolve was one of the best parts, and the same with the barricade- in terms of staging. That cast- I never once detected I had an understudy, and they were brilliant.
I actually had my first stage door experience. Originally I did not want to, but my mom convinced me to. I actually met Adam Bayjou, who was Jean Valjean. He signed my playbill and got a picture of him. To get a picture with the actor, who was the main character was exciting. It was my dream to see Les Mis in London. There was one more thing I loved about that evening: I loved that my dad and sister got their own date while my mom and I were watching Les Mis. I was an emotional wreck- and did find new emotions in characters. I was also was laughing every once in a while.
The 31st- my family had to go back to the airport to meet the rest of the 72 pilgrims at Costa Coffee. Most of them left the same day I saw Les Mis. To from Valjean’s spiritual journey to my own- that actually made the musical more meaningful. We started at Windsor Castle. August 1st and 2nd consisted of a walking tour of London, Evensong at Westminster, Eucharist at St. Paul’s, and Tower of London (we didn’t have time to go in, but had time to walk around. I was nervous living London- I did not know anything about Bristol. It was chaotic living London.
Do you what London reminds me of? It reminds me of NYC, but a spread out version of NYC. One of the things I loved about being at Bristol was looking for Shaun the Sheep. I never once thought I would go to all the church services, but I did. From Bath to Berkeley Castle to Stonehenge to Old Sarum to Salisbury Cathedral to Tintern Abbey to Chepstow Castle- we went to places in and around Bristol. The Stonehenge day was when the church choir was off- so we were able to do more that day. Stonehenge was my mountain-top moment. That day actually seemed like it was going to rain, but the clouds gave Stonehenge an incredible atmosphere. I do not think that the things we did were the best part of the pilgrimage. In my opinion, the fellowship that was created was the best part. Our church has a stronger fellowship all because of the Bristol Pilgrimage. Some of the things we did had a stronger impact than others, but everything added up to the meaning behind the pilgrimage.
The last two days were spent in Bristol. So the pilgrims had free time until the church services. My family visited St. Mary Redcliffe, and by being there, I thought of the perfect motto for the Bristol Pilgrimage.
Those lyrics from the Servant Song are perfect- the song now has double meaning (Kanuga and the Bristol Pilgrimage). We really were travelers. We were pilgrims. We did help each other. We were at a number of places. There was only one time we weren’t in England- we were in Wales for Tintern and Chepstow. A lot of them were places I wasn’t familiar with. I actually was in tears twice in England. The first was at Les Mis and the other time was the final Evensong. When the final anthem was sung, I was in tears, and through that reaction, I knew just how transforming the pilgrimage was. The Bristol Pilgrimage was an important part of my spiritual journey. My family mainly wanted to go up early because of Les Mis- what was crazy about the stage show was that I did see it every other years. 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019 were the years I saw the stage show: four theaters and three ways (community college, West End, and US Tour).
Do you know what the difference is between a tourist and pilgrim. A tourist actually just looks while a pilgrim looks much deeper for the spirituality and sacredness of a place and look deeper in themselves. I think the reason why I was able to find the spirituality in Les Mis is due to having a strong spirit. I accidentally mistook is for being too depressing when I first saw the movie, but for whatever reason gave it a 2nd chance.