London calling

With twin toddlers, planning is usually the way to go. But the risk is that it can be too easy to plan ourselves right out of something. When we have time to stop and think about it, why on earth would we go anywhere? That’s pretty much what happened with us going to London. When the idea first surfaced, the logistics seemed too daunting and exhausting to squeeze in two weeks before.

But with less than 24 hours of preparation time, some whim overtook us and we decided to just go. We didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to see some family and friends that were going to be there. Last minute plans were quickly arranged. We rented a flat that would have two pack ‘n plays. Booked tickets. Cat sitter arranged. Messages left and emails sent.

Yes! We can do this.  We are still spontaneous, fun people! This is part of the adventure of living abroad!

The Olympic Rings hanging from the Tower Bridge

These exciting thoughts lasted about five minutes, or until I decided to check the weather forecast in London: rain Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and then maybe some clear skies on Sunday, when we were to leave. I took Sudafed and slept terribly.

So when we got off the plane in London and it was not raining, I was hugely relieved. It was also about ten degrees warmer. Athletes were already arriving; we could see them weaving through the airport traffic in their brightly colored team uniforms like ribbons. Good thing now that the boys are 2.5 years old, we’ve also had some endurance training.

After scoping out the nearest playground and getting some food, we walked over to the Southbank area for sound check.

Approaching Southbank Centre with Big Ben and the London Eye in the background

C watched the amazing drummer, Will Calhoun, and said, “I want to do that.” (Will gave them signed drumsticks, that, you guessed it, we’ve since taken away until they have an actual drum to hit.) Sascha was thrilled to see Oumou Sangare again, after working with her on “Throw Down Your Heart” years ago. Much, much later we were able to get to the theater to see the last twenty minutes of Oumou and Bela’s fantastic show. The entire audience was out of their seats, spilling into the aisles, and dancing.

Sascha, Oumou, and Bela

The next morning we hung out with B in the lobby of his hotel until the cars taking them to the airport arrived. We said goodbye and hit the town at 8:30am.

The very first time I came to Europe, I came through London.  I was twenty years old and had an enormous backpack strapped to me like a tortoise shell. I met C and V in Paddington Station as we waited for our train bound for the same study abroad program. I remember the countryside rising in green hills that filled the train windows, and the feeling that the wide world was opening up, the world of places I had only read about. When the boys yelled “Ben!” as if greeting an old friend when they spotted the famous clock tower, I hope on some level, they have that feeling, too. The world of the “London Taxi” book was coming to life for them, so vividly that when we had to take a van to fit the four of us, our luggage, and the double stroller, they were pissed: “It not a London taxi,” they sniffed.

I crashed for a few hours on Friday morning while Sascha took them by Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace. The highlight of their trip (and I’m certain, their lives so far) was seeing a helicopter land in the road, right across from the playground.

C and her two daughters in St. James Park

C has recently returned to London and later we met up with her.

We enjoyed it until the sky suddenly grew dark and a wind started tossing the trees. I knew the wind meant business. We did not have a good, nearby indoor plan for our four kids. Instead we spent a very long time under a canopy of trees on Birdcage Walk, hoping it would pass soon.

When it finally did stop raining, we walked what seemed like an impossible distance (at least for the legs of the 5-and-under-crowd and their meandering attention spans), to the Tate Britain.

Tearing up the Tate

By the time we arrived at the museum, it was well past dinner and the kids were starting to lose it. We ate over-priced, mediocre museum cafe food and did not look at a single painting. I recommend the museums in London highly, just not as destination dining.

Saturday we hit the Jubilee Gardens and we went back down to the Southbank, which had a Festival of the World going on.  We had brunch with old family friends of Sascha’s, Camille and Schuyla. It was sunny and we were ecstatic.

Brunch with Camille and Schuyla.

We wore short-sleeves. I know most of the U.S. has been struggling with heat waves and drought, but here has been a real lack of summer, and it’s a hard thing to get used to.

The boys were not interested in the London Eye, so we took a river cruise down to the Tower of London. Boat rides, we learned one rainy day in Paris, are a godsend.  We can sight see, sit down, and keep the boys interested all at once.

Tower of London

In the late afternoon, we met another friend in Holland Park, where we found a peacock literally strutting for peanuts. Another mom was kind enough to share some with the boys so they could feed it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a peacock that close.

Finally, we hopped into a taxi (yes, a London taxi) to meet our California friends. By happy coincidence, they were vacationing in London with their children. We had not seen each other since the boys were just a few weeks old. The Eagle was a great little pub with a huge enclosed back garden, and kids were running all over. It was the first time we were able to sit back and enjoy a pint and sort of have an adult conversation, as our boys ran off with their kids and played.

She’s going to make a great babysitter

Los Angeles in London

Unintentionally, this also became a trip to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. In the preceding week, we had both pretty much forgotten our approaching anniversary. In a fit of optimism (and remembrance), we made reservations at Galvin La Chapelle, a very fancy London restaurant, for Saturday night. But after being out with the kids all day (following some brutally early morning wake-ups), I had already eaten a burger at 6pm. We didn’t get to our 9:15pm reservation until about 10pm. We declined starters, ate our entrees, and then discussed how delicious it would be to just go home. Sleep was better than Michelin-rated desserts, at least at that moment. The waitress was worried, in a restaurant with Cuban cigars for after dinner and a gourmand tasting menu: Was everything alright? But that is five years of marriage and almost eleven years of being together: just as happy to get the check, duck into a taxi, and collapse into bed.

Sunday we made it over to Notting Hill, where a friend let us drop off our bags and then we walked together through the beautiful neighborhood to Hyde Park. It was actually hot outside. I think somewhere in high 70s, maybe even 80s.

The Princess Diana Memorial Playground is as good as everyone says, and now I understand why there can be a huge queue. Again we were lucky: we got there before there was a wait. I think we only saw a small portion of it (and had yummy
ice cream cones from the cafe).

Not a cloud in the sky

There was a massive sandpit area with a beached pirate ship. The adventure playgrounds in Dublin are amazing, but for some reason I have yet to find a playground in Ireland with a sandpit. There is nothing my sons enjoy more than digging in sand.

It was so hot (!) that most unprepared parents just stripped their kids down to diapers so they could play in the water and sand.

Teepee playscape

After the park, we only had time to change out of sandy clothes and then get to the airport. We were lucky with the weather and the chance to spend time with so many friends and family.

The flight back was the first plane ride where no one cried. (Not even us.)

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