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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Sunday in Skerries

On Sunday we drove out to Skerries in North County Dublin to visit the monstrously talented children’s book author Niamh Sharkey and her family. It was a cold, bright day. Niamh had warned us to dress warmly; the playground was by the sea.

We must have maneuvered through five roundabouts to get there (the traffic circles in Europe take some getting used to), and at the last one, we wound through a railway underpass so narrow we had no idea it was two-way until nearly getting sideswiped by an oncoming car.

One of the two landmark windmills in Skerries

From Niamh’s kitchen, we could see a giant windmill.

We packed up all the kids (she has three adorable older kids who G & C keep talking about) and followed them to Ardgillan Castle.

Ardgillan Castle

Ardgillan is a gorgeous public park with plenty of (free!) parking. The location was spectacular. Standing at the top of a rolling meadow, we looked down to a line of yew trees flanking the castle. Beyond the castle (technically a country house from the late eighteenth century), lay the turquoise Irish Sea.  The grounds have rose gardens (not yet in bloom), picnic areas, and beautiful walking and cycling paths. They even host children’s parties (giving an entirely new dimension to the princess phenomenon among young children).  Looking north, the velvety Mourne Mountains looked painted by watercolor on the horizon.

You can see the Mourne Mountains to the right of the castle

On the almost 200 acres of grounds, there is a wonderland of a playground. With a pirate ship and a submarine, another perilous rope tree and a zip line, this playground was as state of the art as the one in Malahide, though a bit smaller. How will we ever go back to U.S. playgrounds? Why does North County have such amazing playgrounds?

G checks out the view from the playground

On the way back to Niamh’s house for lunch, we drove down hilly roads lined with ivy-covered trees and organic farms out to the road edging Skerries Harbour. Thickets of ragwort banked along the road, pops of yellow as sharp as the sun (the harsh light made for long shadows, despite the place being so photogenic, it was hard to capture in that light). White caps skimmed along the water. The tide was out so the boats in the harbor looked tossed there, keeling over like forgotten toys in the basin.

Who would have thought it'd be hailing a few hours later?

We didn’t explore the village of Skerries on foot but just did a quick drive through.  I would love to go back again (especially when it’s a bit warmer, to get ice cream from the tiny pier-side shack known as “Storm in a Teacup”) to see more and stroll along the beach.  Highly recommend this as a day trip from Dublin with young children. It was about 45 minutes north but it felt a world away.

We had so much fun that the boys missed their nap and we left her house at 4pm, just as our blue sky gave itself over to a dark cloud and hail started.

Niamh gave G his first ukulele lesson

The boys conked out by the time we were on the N1 and C wanted to sleep on Daddy for another hour or so when we got home.

 

Daytripping to Howth

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This gallery contains 20 photos.

Howth is a peninsula that juts out into the sea just north of Dublin, about a half hour by car but also accessible on the DART line. A mom friend suggested it since a playground, a working pier, and the … Continue reading

Daytripping to Dun Laoghaire

When my mother and Sascha’s parents were here for the boys’ birthday, we drove down the coast to Dun Laoghaire in search of cupcake toppers at a place called Cakebox. There I found Bob the Builder and Thomas the Train sugar discs to dress up the cupcakes I made for their crèche (and if you are a very fancy baker, they have everything you might possibly need). Luckily, Blue Steel was still running well (as she is again, thanks to a new battery and new oil seals or some such) at that point. My mom gamely agreed to ride with half a butt cheek in the backseat, squished in between the boys.

Dun Laoghaire is an adorable, upscale seaside town about twenty minutes south of Dublin. Cakebox is on upper St. George’s St, and from there it was an easy walk to People’s Park.

People's Park, Dun Laoghaire

Here is where C made his first "wish" with my mom by tossing a penny in the fountain. Then he wanted the penny back

Since there was a playground, the boys were very happy.

On the gates of the park I noticed a sign saying the tea room was open. After the boys played for a bit, we walked up to check it out.  The Tea Room, run by a lovely man named Enda and his son, is open 7 days a week in the winter. I wish every park had something like this! The wind had seeped into our bones standing around the playground. We wrapped our hands around cups of hot chocolate (so yummy with steamed milk) and fresh coffee. Looking down the gentle slope of the park, we watched the boats out in the harbor.

The blue building behind G is the Tea Room

On Sundays, People’s Park hosts markets.  A nice side trip from Dublin with kids, accessible by DART.

The blog is going to be a bit screwy this week. Still trying to catch up on uploading galleries of some amazing visits with family, including a daytrip to Howth, touring the Hill of Tara and Newgrange, and hiking the Cliff Walk at Greystones–and I’m headed to the States for a quick week.

Daytripping to Malahide

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In the space of 24 hours, a month’s worth of rain has fallen. There is flooding on certain streets but we are all fine. Yesterday, sitting in some areas of the house where the skylights are above us, I felt … Continue reading