security is the funnest part

Security is the funnest part, declares Rachel. Jim and I would beg to differ, but Virgin Airlines has a family line which keeps things running smoothly. We’re a well-oiled machine anyway. The kids know what to do (what to put in which security bins), where to walk (between mom and dad at all time), and when to talk (not at all).

We spent the afternoon in the St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Prince Charles and Lady Di were married, and a whole bunch of famous people are buried in the crypt below (like the guy who defeated Napolean). Then we zipped back to our hotel for luggage and a quick lift (in London rush hour) to Heathrow. Here we are, awaiting our gate number, cause they don’t give you that till an hour before.

My anticipation of our next overnight flight, and presence in one of the busiest airports of the world with four children, where people are flying off to exotic places like Oslo, Istanbul, and Cairo keep me from writing more.

Oh ya, and I’ve only seen one other family of four in our entire week; I guess no surprise there, we are in Europe (for the next two hours anyway).

life in London

If I had the technology to upload photos, I would show you Big Ben, but I’ll bet you’ve seen him at some point. He really is a beaut. I’d show you all the memorials and statues every few blocks; I know these photos would get old fast, but the repeated theme when you’re walking the sidewalks is remarkable. London knows how to remember. I’d upload a sample of the architecture; it’s why people go abroad, to soak up ambience through etched stone. I would take you to the National Gallery to see Claude Monet’s Waterlillies (because they won’t let you take photos in there) and you could stand in your soaked hair and jeans with aching feet and gape at one of the wonders of the art world, thrilled to bits that you actually got to see the real thing.

The people, too, have a savoir faire about them. Or maybe it was watching an MP argue his position respectfully and meaningfully in house that swayed my thoughts in that direction–a marked difference between Canada and Britian, in my opinion. The policeman guarding Clarence House (Prince Charles’ home) was helpful and even served as a tour guide…Hannah was thrilled to discover Duchess Kate’s recent presence at Kensington Palace. I was walking into The Ritz with Hannah and Madelyn to ask about afternoon tea when two doormen rushed over to gallantly suggest that we go through the door at the end, as this door is reserved for casino customers. There’s something very straight laced, clever and kind about these people.

I asked the girls what they’ve most enjoyed about London.

Rachel: Buying tic tacs. Okey dokey. We could have done that at home, and less expensively, what with the pound exchange and cost of the flight.

Madelyn: Renting bikes. (We haven’t ACTUALLY done that, so I asked her to give something we DID). Seeing Big Ben. Oh, but mostly watching the ducks. Really, I said, because we have ducks at Riverside Park in Kamloops, which we feed once a week. Yes, but here they’re more sophisticated.

Hannah: Westminster Abbey, because of all the history; and all the shops, especially the National Gallery and museum gift shops.

I didn’t get a chance to ask Zach, but I’m pretty sure it would be ice cream beside the Thames River, candy from Hamley’s Toy Store, and orange chocolate from the Indian restaurant tonight. There’s a theme here… And based on the look on his face, lift off of each plane flight, which he’ll get to repeat again on Virgin Airlines tomorrow night to Nairobi.

London Bridge is falling down, but they’ll have it up by Olympics

I brought my Usborne Book of London. We’re quickly working through the pages of these sights in real time. No intention of doing it all, as this can’t be accomplished with a happy spirit and four children in four days. The double decker bus is a favourite for the youngest. Rachel gave Zach a tour: “That, Zach, is Big Ben”. Zach: “There are two Big Bens”. Rachel: “No just ONE Big Ben, and that’s it”, pointing emphatically. These are charming exchanges, but rather loud on the earphone guided tour bus. The Spanish lady next to them is displeased with their volume and shushes them firmly, but later realizes their cuteness factor and strokes Zach’s cheek, much to his chagrin.

We’ve passed over the London Bridge (an inconsequential site compared to its neighbour, the Tower Bridge). The Tower Bridge is situated next to the Tower of London, a site with stories of torture and imprisonment, the likes of Anne Boleyn and Queen Elizabeth I. We wandered past the glass enclosed Crown Jewels…the closest I’ve come to adornments like that are dollar store gems hot glued to a tin foiled crown. We didn’t get to touch the jewels, but we did get to see the Queen today. Queen Elizabeth II was reconvening parliament, so the kids were thrilled to watch her entourage and watch her wave in her golden carriage.

Along with the Double Decker bus tour was a river cruise along the Thames. The muddy brown river reminded me of the cafe-latte coloured Beaufort Sea. I imagine it just as cold too. We attempted the underground subway, zipping from one level to the next, from North Line to Picadilly, much like Pierce Brosnan in Thomas Crown Affair…but with four kids…and possibly not in London, or maybe it was Matt Damon in Bourne Identity. We even used the bus line, thankfully with Jim’s mapping skills…I had us moving in the wrong direction. Eventually we did indeed find Hamley’s–a six level toy store, with omnipresent assistants ready to ‘play’ with your children, or directly advertise to you and your child. The candy store level was a real hit with the kids too!

Running from the unyielding rain and compressing crowds, we attempted a refuge in Hyde Park, spending half an hour sitting with the ducks and swan. I imagine Queen Elizabeth I or King Henry VIII riding horseback with hounds following their prey. I would have liked to find the Holocaust Memorial or the Princess Diana playground, but we were soaked with Vancouver-like rains.

The hearty English fare reminds me of solid farm food from which my family originates. Meat and potatoes: beef and beer with potatoes, shepherd’s pie, cottage pie, roast beef and yorkshire pudding (but the puddings are airier than mine). Jim discovered Scottish eggs: boiled eggs cooked in bread crumbs. International offerings are everywhere, though I think we’ll leave that for the end of the week. The American Fried Chicken shop was shut down–an anti-American sentiment? We walked past an Ethiopian restaurant, which I would have gladly tried, but knowing that there was no convincing my family, we just kept walking (growing up being told I better eat my food cause the kids in Ethiopia are starving, I was very curious what exactly they ate). At the end of this week, though, we’ll all go African…

Our hotel is adjacent to Scotland Yard Street and the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant, so I feel part of a mystery. Perhaps that’s just the presence of my present background: the twenty french revolutionaries plotting in the lounge behind me. (It’s possible it’s a passionate french book club, but my six years of high school french language hasn’t equipped me to know the difference)! Whether it’s English or French, I’m quite enjoying our time in London. It’s only my feet that are tired.

across the pond

Day 1, or is it Day 2? I have lost track already. I wake at 4, London Time. Which would be tomorrow for most of you. May 6 we left. We missed half of May 7. I drained three cups of coffee and wrote fourteen pages till the luminescent white appeared out my window this May 8. As far as I know, the kids are still sleeping thirteen hours later. Jim has had the most practice staying up all hours of the night for the past fifteen years. The rest of us have coped, occasionally snappy, definitely dulled.

Zach looked awfully drowsy when we first sat in our British Airway plane seats. It was bedtime as the plane lifted off. While I blowdried Zach’s pants in the Calgary airport family room for a half hour, Jim was pre-medicating the kids. For two hours Zach cuddled with blanky and thumb, then woke for a meal. Who serves meals at 10? Despite an ativan-induced sleep, I slept little. But Hannah declared that she felt like a queen with all the airline accoutrements.

“We’re on top of Scotland now”, says the flight attendant overhead. I looked out the window to get a glimpse for my sister; she is more Scottish than our other origins of English, Irish, or German. All I see is a blanket of clouds.

The London Eye and Parliament buildings are visible from our Trafalgar Square accomodations. Tame pigeons roam in the tall grasses and thick camoflouge-barked chestnut trees of St. James Park were our first walk. Hannah’s meeting with the Queen and Duchess didn’t happen as hoped, despite a kind letter from the Duchess’ secretary welcoming us her to country a month ago. But I see a British monarchy lapbook! We stood, we stared, we photographed Buckingham Palace. Guards marched. “Do you think those are real guns?” Rachel asked. Buckingham Palace boasted a changing of the guard, and a few guards with real artillery, who were interested in my camera poking through the wrought iron gates.

Our first meal, lunch, or supper? (we’ve missed a few hours of Monday) was fish and chips at an english pub…the best place to savour that flavour, with a Pimms. The girls guzzled the Pimms until we realized it wasn’t lemonade, rather spiced gin and citrus. Their drinks came with an amused waitress.

And now we begin a new day, Tuesday, abroad.