**I didn't take a picture of the London Eye on the day we went on it, go figure. So I dug out some other pictures I'd taken on different (sunnier) days.
The kids wanted to go to the London Eye from the first moment they saw it, but it was one of those things that kept getting put off for the "perfect" day of clear, blue skies. Those days are rare when you narrow it down to just Saturdays, not to mention how busy it is during the summer. So we procrastinated it until we had no Saturdays left in London that weren't already spoken for, and of course it was cloudy. Fortunately the clouds were high enough that they didn't impede our views.
We didn't have to wait in line for long, and then we boarded our capsule with about eight other people. It takes 30 minutes for the complete rotation, and the capsule is made up of glass windows, so you can see everywhere. We gave the kids a hard time because all they wanted to do was mess around on the iPads that gave reference points and information about what you were seeing in the panorama. "Come on guys! Get present!" As obsessed as millennials are with electronic devices, what are the children of millennials going to be like?
After we finished we had promised the kids doughnuts so we went on a doughnut hunt. We took a bus to Bermondsy to find a market I wanted to go to, with no luck. So we walked to a bakery I'd been to with Sean and Lori on the dessert crawl, and it was closed, gone, "finished" as they like to say. Our next choice was Borough Market, so we walked there, but decided it was too crowded and so we just settled on a dozen from the Krispy Kreme at London Bridge Station. Not fancy, but delicious nonetheless.
**I didn't take a picture of the London Eye on the day we went on it, go figure. So I dug out some other pictures I'd taken on different (sunnier) days.
After my mom was gone, it was just Amirah and me enjoying Spring walks in the city. I miss it so much. I can't believe these places are memories, and not my daily life.
(Taking a baby and a big camera just seemed like too much so I settled for camera photos everywhere we went.)
Brookmill Park. When Simon was in Nursery I would take his scooter with me on the bus, and then we would walk home through this park. Once all the kids were in school I would walk home via this park, it was quiet and lovely and I could hear my podcast/audiobook better than when I would walk along the busy streets.
I also have a dozen pictures of all the food I ate on my excursions, but I'll spare my blog audience from teasing you with delicious flavors from across the ocean.
Despite having so much to do during my last month in London I tried to get out as much as I could. Of course I wish I had been that active for the entire two years I lived there, but it's hard to be a tourist in real life, when there is laundry and sickness and motherhood to occupy your days, not to mention bills to pay and other demands on time and finances. So I shelf my regrets and practice gratitude for the amazing chances I did have to enjoy London's charm.
My mom came to visit when Amirah was a couple weeks old, just about the time when I was getting ready to be outside again. Our first April in London was gorgeous, and I really didn't want to miss our second (and last) April sitting at home in postpartum gloom. Thankfully my mom enjoys these things as much as I do, and we were able to go out a few times. We went to Camden Market on a Saturday morning, and took Miriam and Amirah with us, then we met up with the boys in Regent's Park.
On another day we walked through Mayfair, Hyde Park and then made a stop at Harrod's. It was my first time at Harrod's and I loved the food hall so much I went back three times before we moved. Ha! (Just yesterday a friend and I discovered that we had in common mothers who are ALWAYS game for finding new treats.)
The aforementioned outings didn't offer us the pleasant April weather I'd been hoping for, but we got lucky on our last, long city walk. I only knew some general ideas about this walk, so it was a bit confusing trying to find our way, and then we did it backwards and I was confused again. It was the Parkland walk in North London, and there were so many little surprises along the way.
Without meaning to, without even knowing such a place existed, we stumbled upon the Alexandra Palace, AKA, the "Ally Pally." It was built in 1873 "as a public centre of recreation, education and entertainment." It had really beautiful architecture, and a great view of the city.
We eventually found our way to the walk that I had originally planned, which is a lovely and quiet path along what used to be an old train line. Amirah slept nearly the entire time, and my mom and I had a lovely chat.
We came out at Finsbury Park, took a quick jaunt up to King's Cross, ate some lunch and cupcakes, popped on over to the British Library so my mom could take a quick look at an exhibit there, and then made our way home, just in time to pick up the kids from school.
My mom and I had some other fun outings too. We went to Cath Kidston (more than once), bought a couple tea cups and saucers at street markets, went through the National Portrait Gallery, and had lunch at a Cafe Rouge (which had been on my London bucket list), to name a few. I think both of us were trying to squeeze every last little bit out of our time in London.
Having my siblings come to visit was the best. I know I've already said this, every time someone came to visit I said it, but I just looked forward to it so much. My siblings have enough in common with me that I knew how much they would love all the things I loved in London. (Especially the food.) Our shared heritage and common interests make traveling and enjoying places highly pleasurable.
Amirah was just a few weeks old when they came, so I feel like I wasn't quite as organized and energetic as I like to be. But we had a really good time regardless. Here are just a few snapshots from their visit.
We took a day trip to Stratford Upon Avon, which was so lovely. (Thanks Mike & Cindy for watching our crew.) We strolled around the quaint English town, visited the theatre, saw Shakespeare's home and his grave and ate treats of course. (Ice cream, and a Cafe Nero Millionaire bar, my fave.)
On a Sunday afternoon we took a walk through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. There were also so many other things! Borough Market, Southbank, Soho, Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, National Portrait Gallery, Harrods, Abingdon sticky toffee pudding, Tower of London, Goddards, British Library, and many other things they did without me, including a trip across the channel over to Paris.
Having visitors at the end of our time in London was the perfect chance for us to make sure we did all our favorite things one last time.
As my days of independence are winding down I've been trying to get out and enjoy the city as much as I can. At the end of this week the kids begin a two-week school break, during which I'm hoping to have a baby. It has been such a pleasure to have these days and moments to myself. All of these pictures were just taken with my phone, I've gotten pretty lazy about carrying my nice camera around with me.
4 March - Richard and I have also been trying to make the most of our childless time, since babysitters are hard to come by, and so we've been having lunch dates on Friday. One particularly sunny Friday after I dropped off the kids at school I decided to walk to his office in Canary Wharf. I walked through Deptford, along the southside of the river, caught a river boat to cross, and then walked through Westferry Circus (a really pretty little place) to Canary Wharf. It was all wonderfully pleasant and took me about two hours, so I arrived a little early for lunch. I sat in the KPMG lobby and listened to my audiobook while I waited for Richard.
10 March - I had a birthday gift in mind for Eli that I needed to buy at the British Museum, so on another day out I spent a couple hours there in the morning, had lunch alone at Wagamama, and then did some walking in Soho, where I picked up some unbelievably tasty doughnuts at Crosstown, per the recommendation of a doughnut loving sister of mine.
17 March - It was looking to be another sunny day so I chose a park I found on Pinterest that was located near King's Cross Station. But upon leaving the station I discovered that I was right by the British Library, which was also on my list of places still to see. So I went there first, and it was the most fortuitous accident. I may or may not have made it there if I hadn't stumbled upon it like that, but it was one of my favorite places I've been to. I only spent an hour there, in the Treasure Gallery, and treasures there were!
There were original musical scores by Bach, Mozart and others, including the original score of Handel's Messiah. There was an original Magna Carta. There were countless religious documents from all faiths, that were hundreds of years old. But my favorite were the original manuscripts from authors like Dickens, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and others. It was so fascinating to look at their pages, see the phrases they crossed out and changed, and imagine them writing on those very pages, ideas that became famous works of literature. I couldn't stop smiling. There was also a really fun Alice in Wonderland exhibit celebrating the books 150 year anniversary.
From the library I walked to the Camley Street Natural Park, which was green and lovely, but a little bit of a let-down. But as I walked along the canal, in no particular direction, I stumbled upon something else perfectly delightful. Granary Square was "opened" in 2012, but it was designed around existing historic buildings, making it a really fun blend of modern and classical. It is right along Regents Canal, and has coordinated water fountains and restaurants, and aesthetically pleasing landscaping. I went into Waitrose and bought some almonds and carrots and ate my lunch basking in the sunshine and ambiance, feeling quite lucky to have found it.
From there I went back to Soho for more doughnuts and a little shopping on Regent's street and then, completely exhausted, caught a train home.
My heart just bursts with love for London and all she has to offer.
The kids have a week holiday in the middle of each term, and sadly during their half-term break in February we were fighting a horrible stomach flu. It took eleven days to work its way through each member of the family, and none of us were spared. But between the first wave and second wave, when we were naively believing it was finished, we had one good day to go out. I chose another Adventure on foot and we followed it almost exactly, beginning with the Bank of England Museum.
The museum was really kid-friendly, I think in fact it's directed almost entirely for children. It talked about the history of the Bank of England, inflation, the gold standard, and the evolution of British currency. We were also really lucky that since it was half-term there was a man doing "readings" from The Wind in the Willows. Kenneth Grahame, the author, was a long-time employee of the Bank of England, and there is an exhibit there to honor him. The gentleman performing was all dressed up, and did an animated performance of a scene from the book. It was so great, the kids and myself were all captivated. Mim and Simon wanted to stay for a second performance but others of us were getting hungry.
We walked from the museum to Leadenhall Market, which makes a brief appearance as the entrance to Diagon Alley in the first Harry Potter movie. We ate lunch there, and a couple really nice women complimented my kids on their great behavior. You'd never know what good kids they are from the expressions on some of these faces...
After lunch we walked to The Monument, which is a tall Doric pillar that was built as a memorial to the Great Fire of London in 1666. The monument was begun in 1671 but took six years to build because of a shortage of Portland stone. This caused the king to issue a proclamation forbidding anyone to use this particular type of stone for any projects without the express permission of Sir Christopher Wren, the architect and surveyor of the monument.
We climbed 311 steps to the of the monument, although Cameron swears he only counted 307.
After we descended the windy staircase with caution, we went to Patisserie Valerie to pick up the birthday cake I had ordered for myself; the cake that we wouldn't get to eat for two days because of the aforementioned stomach flu...
On an overcast day in January I followed an online self-guided walk through East London, written by Richard Jones. The area covered a part of London known for its poverty, various immigrant settlements, the "murderous hunting ground" of Jack the Ripper, and the slums often written of by Charles Dickens. It was fascinating! Every turn had historical intrigue and also London charm. Here are a few gems.
These streets were the highlight of the day for me. The colored shutters, the classic London chimneys, the varied brick facades, were such eye candy. You would never guess that they were the homes of London's poorest citizens in the 19th century.
From the words of Mr. Jones-
"The buildings that you have passed and those that now stretch before you, have a genuine timelessness about them. Built in the 18th Century for the Huguenot silk merchants and master weavers, they had by the mid 19th Century become common lodging houses, offering miserable living conditions to the poverty-stricken and partly criminal populace.
Number 4, on the right, which has a distinctly down-at-heel look about it, does in fact preserve much of its 18th- and 19th-century paintwork and fixtures and fittings. Indeed, so unchanged is its character that recent television adaptations of Great Expectations; Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist, as well as several biographical films on Dickens’s life, have been filmed here."
Apparently I didn't get a picture of the next building that captured my attention. But once more, here is the description from Richard Jones.
"Built in 1743 as a Huguenot School and chapel, the building was acquired in 1809 by the London Society – a group of evangelical Christians dedicated to converting Jews to Christianity. In 1819 the building became a Methodist Chapel, remaining so until 1897, when it became the Spitalfields Great Synagogue. In 1975, it was converted into a Mosque."
In other words, Christians, Jews and Muslims have all worshiped in that building.
The oldest remaining bell foundry in London, the home of Big Ben.
I heard about Lumiere London at the last minute. It is a traveling art festival of sorts, designed all around light in urban environments, and it was only happening over a weekend. I saw it posted on Facebook on Friday. Originally I thought it would be fun to take the whole family on Saturday night, but then Richard wasn't feeling well and none of the boys were interested, so I nearly begged Mim to come along. She was actually quite willing, she is always happy to have some one-on-one time.
She's such a fun girl to hang out with, and she chatted my ear off the entire way into the city. The first installations we went to were a underwhelming, and the crowds were overwhelming and I wasn't sure it was worth it. We did a lot of walking and Mim, bless her heart, was a trooper. As we made our way a little further out of the more popular areas we started to enjoy ourselves more. The highlight of the whole night was definitely Westminster Abbey. After we saw that one, we walked toward Victoria train station. We bought some treats for the train ride home, but the next train to Lewisham wasn't for awhile so I decided to take the tube to Cannon Street and catch a train from there. (They are much more frequent.) Unfortunately I completely forgot that Cannon Street station was closed that day, which I had actually known because I had been in the city that morning. So we had to do MORE walking and by then we were both so tired that the evening kind of ended on a sour note. We took the DLR all the way home from Bank and Mim fell asleep along the way. None of that probably makes any sense if you haven't used public transport in London, but someday when I read this I want to be able to feel sorry for myself all over again.
I didn't take my camera because to be honest I'm no better at taking night-time photos with my DSLR than with my iPhone. Oh well. Here is my shameless smattering of awkwardly cropped photos from the night.
During the week between Christmas and New Year's, Richard had to spend a day catching up on some online training for work, so I took the kids into the city. We referred back to our trusty City Walks with Kids (I'm super excited because I just ordered the New York City version.) and found one that looked fun.
The first stop was the Tin TIn Shop. Tin TIn is a famous European cartoon character from comics that were published from 1929-1976 by a Belgian cartoonist. It has been one of the most popular comics of the 20th century in Europe, but apparently never took hold in the U.S. We bought a Tin Tin comic book, but the kids really didn't know much about Tin Tin or his cute dog Snowy so we didn't stay long in the shop.
The Tin Tin shop is just around the corner from Covent Garden, where there are always entertaining buskers. Mim loved this silver lady.
There is a small creperie in the basement of the market so we went there for lunch. I've been there a few times, and it was delicious as usual.
After lunch we went to a couple small toy shops in Covent Garden and the kids used some money they had earned to do a little shopping. Next we went to the London Transport Museum which is just outside Covent Garden. All the photos I took in the museum I took with my phone.
The museum was really interesting. It covered public transport in London for the last 200 years. It was chronologically organized and had trains and buses and carriages from each era that you could see up close and climb inside. There was also a children's activity page that the kids punched along the way. We had a really fun time and stayed a lot longer than I had expected to.
After we left the museum the kids begged for a snack so we bought some crisps to eat on the tube. I was discussing with a friend recently about how much our recreational activities revolve around food, and it's so true. Whenever I'm out with the kids they always want to know when and what we are going to eat. It's a bit obsessive and I want to try to find a way to change that but I don't have any ideas yet... Part of the problem is ME, I'm no different. I always want food to be involved in anything I do.
All in all it was a really successful day, of course by the time we are taking the trains home the kids are tired and the excitement is gone and they get cranky and disruptive, whereupon "Mean Mom" comes out. But we seem to be lasting longer and longer before we hit that breaking point, for which I'm grateful.
Last year we went ice skating at the rink they had set up in Canary Wharf, but Simon was too young so Richard and he just observed. This year I wasn't going to go out on the ice, so I asked Simon if he wanted to try it and he said he did, so he laced up with the rest of the gang. Which put Richard in charge of four completely amateur ice skating kids. An exhausting task indeed. Thank goodness for the sliding seals!
For awhile they took turns using the sliding seal to go around the ice, with Richard trying to keep them all on their feet, but then one of the employees informed me that the kids could ride on the seals too. What a discovery!
After we finished ice skating the kids begged to go to Wahaca for dinner. Richard and I can't really ever resist Wahaca, so that wasn't a tough sell.
The legacy of Queen Victoria and her husband/cousin Prince Albert includes several museums, and the Museum of Childhood became the collection place in the 20th century for all things related to children and family life. We took the tube to Bethnal Green and spent THREE hours in the museum. It was a really fantastic set-up because each exhibit had an interactive space for the kids, which always gave me time to read while they played.
A sandbox in the middle of a museum? Well sure! I've learned that Europeans are big fans of importing tonnes of sand and creating artificial beaches all over the city. (They do this in Paris too I've read.) But I told Richard that I think a beach is worthless to me without water. Apparently the kids disagree.
We were all hungry and thirsty by the time we left the musuem so we stopped at a little market and got some snacks and drinks and took them to the Bethnal Green park. The kids had fun running around unrestrained- but it made for terrible timing. We ended up on the Tube during rush hour. We've done the trains during rush hour before- but only with Richard. Fortunately people were considerate and accommodating so we managed to get home without losing anyone. It was hot- but not as hot as the buses.
When we got home we had cold cereal for dinner because I had a smashing headache and now the kids are in bed and I'm peacefully relaxed in my chair that reclines.
Mindy asked if we would be interested in swapping kids for a chance to go out and that sounded fantastic so last night we dropped off our kids at their flat and walked to Greenwich for dinner.
It had been pouring rain all afternoon so it was misty and muggy but the view from the top of Maze Hill was still beautiful. We walked down the hill and into Greenwich Village and chose a Mediterranean place called "Papa Charlies". We tried to pick a place that looked the least family friendly, to really capitalize on our freedom. There was a family that came in though, with adorable tow-headed twins, a boy and girl just around John and Catie's ages and we sighed over them.
Richard had Guvec and I had Mousaka and they were both delicious. Our server was a sweet and gentle girl from Italy, working in London for the summer, with a rhinestone in her lateral incisor that sparkled when she smiled and I wanted to ask her to sit with us during dessert because I wanted to know her life story.
Richard was feeling left out since the kids and I had been to Greenwich park twice without him so we decided to walk back to the Farmer's flat by way of the park. It was so quiet and serene at dusk. Sometimes we can't believe this is our life. (GAG.) But really.
As we were leaving the park Richard started to tell me about the Royal Post letter boxes throughout the city. I love postcards and have been trying to send them off to my dearly beloveds across the ocean so Eli has made a game out of finding letter boxes for me when we are out and about.
Richard explained to me that he had learned that each letter box has the cipher of the reigning King or Queen from the time it was built/placed. Richard said he had seen quite a few already from Queen Elizabeth II, which is no surprise seeing as how she has been queen for the last 60+ years and Richard spends most of his time in Canary Wharf, a more recently developed part of the city. But no sooner had we left the park then we saw one- and this one has the cipher of King George V, who ruled from 1910-1936. Pretty old letter box, eh? Much to our delight, after we'd walked a block or so we came across another one. We didn't get a picture of that one because it was getting dark, but it was Queen Victoria, who ruled until 1901, which was the first year the letter boxes existed. A letter box that was 113 years old. We told Eli about this new discovery as soon as we picked up the kids and his eyes lit up. His game just became much more exciting.
Aside from our one hour dates at IKEA when the kids played in Smaland this was our first chance to be together in a couple months. It was nice and the kids had a really good time playing at someone else's house for the first time in a couple months as well. In fact we laughed because when we dropped them off they were gone lickety-split without so much as a good-bye.
I still wake up sometimes in the middle of the night and feel completely disoriented. What is this place? What day is it? Where am I? Why am I so sweaty?
In Kuna when one of the kids would wake me up with their wailing in the dark of the night, I could recognize the voice, check with the child, and be back in bed without hardly opening my eyes. My subconscious is having trouble making the transition here.
Our house is so hot. Very few buildings have central air conditioning here. And I don't think many homes do. People are telling us that this is an exceptionally hot summer, but it seems like people are saying that everywhere, and they are saying it about the winters too. Anyway, we sleep with the windows open and the curtains up to let the air come in. But that means the room is in full sunlight before 5:00 am and we get the pleasure of the morning noises. I actually don't mind the noises so much, particularly the sound of women's heels clicking down the sidewalk, or the new birds I've never heard or the chit chat of the neighbors. I can also recognize the sound of suitcase wheels rolling down the concrete. Nearly every day someone on my street is leaving or returning from travels.
Anyway- this post is really supposed to be about the museum.
On Friday morning we met the Farmers at the Greenwich playground again. We let the kids play for awhile but rain was on its way so we headed toward the National Maritime Museum which is right next to the park.
The museum was full of interesting things but we had trouble keeping the kids interested. Fortunately they had some interactive/playful galleries. I told Richard we will have to go back with just Cameron and Eli. Museums are hard to appreciate if you can't read.
As we left the museum I was stressed and tired and frustrated. The kids were getting wild and losing control of themselves, as was I. At the bus stop I lost my cool and told Mim and Si that they would not get ice lollies when we got home and they fell apart. So Miriam threw fits the whole way home. I had opted for the bus because the bus stop was right outside the museum, but then the heat and humidity from the rain just made us all more irritable. Public transportation loses some appeal when you can't let your child have a tantrum in the privacy of your own vehicle. I didn't get any dirty looks though, even from the patient man sitting in front of Miriam when she kicked the back of his seat in fits of four year old rage over ice lollies.
We survived the ride home and as soon as we walked through the door I hosed Mim and Si's sweaty and puddle-jumping bodies off in the bathtub and put them down for naps in their underwear. Cameron and Eli were banished to the garden and I came down from the ledges of my mind in peace and quiet, vowing to never take the kids anywhere ever again.
On our first Saturday here, we had the brilliant idea to be tourists, because isn't Saturday the best day for such outings? It is if you've been sleeping and house hunting for the first four days of your expatriation.
We really wanted to take the kids to a park, so why not Hyde Park? We consulted Yelp for a lunch suggestion- which was The Laughing Halibut, a tasty fish and chips joint. Then we made our way to Hyde Park via Westminster and Buckingham Palace.
The kids love riding the train. Cameron loves planning out routes and Eli loves looking at the maps. Miriam and Simon love watching out the windows. I would say this has probably been their favorite part of London.
This must be some of the most expensive real estate in London. (Can you tell I have house hunting on my brain?) This is Buckingham Gate in Westminster. These buildings are so old and so well kept. It's just delightful walking along these roads.
Buckingham Palace guard. Our stop by the palace was a little impromptu so we didn't know much about it until we came home. They fly a flag when the Queen is living there but we didn't know to look for it. It has something like 661 rooms, and only 11 are open to the public for tours. Miriam was dying to go inside. Cameron and Eli were really interested in the guards. The buttons and feathers are unique to each country in the UK.
Wellington Arch- built in 1825, on top is the largest bronze statue in Europe.
The weeping beech in Hyde Park - also called the "upside down tree." The kids played under it for a long time, it has great climbing branches and it was nice and cool in its shade.
Hyde Park was bustling with people. It was a beautiful day, just really nice. I couldn't stop smiling from all the different kinds of people we saw. And everyone was so pleasant and happy to be in the company of their family and friends. Picnics, football games, amorous couples, and music.
Speakers Corner is at the northeast entrance to the park, I imagine it was the best place to stand to catch all the passersby as they came into the park. On Sunday afternoons people still come to share ideas and debate. I'm sure some really exciting moments happened on that corner. More than I can even imagine.
London is such a busy place, with such diverse people and I often feel a little overstimulated. But it's growing on me so much and I continue to feel really grateful.
Author and creator of this weblog; phase two of my internet chronicles of just your average middle class, "married with children" family life.