Tuesday, July 12, 2016

South Africa - London Epilogue

We took an overnight flight to London and settled in for the night.  After a nice dinner (food on international flights is still rather decent) I quickly fell asleep and my charges soon followed.  I was woken up by David tapping me.  “They asked for a doctor.”  Trying to wake my sleeping brain that was also a bit groggy from back pain and medication, I rang in and volunteered my services.  I did what I could (which was not much – there’s only a blood pressure cuff and a glucometer and she actually wasn’t that sick – there were other issues) and they gave me a bottle of champagne for my services.  The kids slept relatively well but no one got a full night sleep. 

Day 1 in London
We landed at Heathrow with a very cranky Mr. 4 who wanted only to seat himself in the middle of the long passport control line and work on his sticker book.  I was trying desperately to find the address where we were staying while trying to help David maneuver 4 tired kids (one of whom refused to move).  There were 2 older Americans behind us who were really rather horrible, eventually cutting in front of us in line and telling us how rude it was that they had to stand behind us.  We were holding up plodding movement of the line but it didn’t actually change anything as we just ended up moving in large burst rather than a few steps every 10 seconds or so.

Finally through (with Mr. 4 giving his name as Bonzo the Bear yet again), we headed for the Underground.  A bit longer than the alternative Heathrow Express, but no changes and we would be there.  All went well until we went to get off at our stop.  The door didn’t open immediately and then Mr. 13 got off and the doors closed right behind him.  I called for him to wait there as the train whisked us off to the next stop.  Mr. 11 was panicking (he panics well) but we managed to stay calm, get off at the next stop, switch to the other side (lots of stairs with lots of luggage) and then back to our station where Mr. 13 was waiting.  A lovely station attendant had helped him and he did just the right thing but it made him very wary the rest of the trip that we would get separated on the train.

We collapsed into our apartment which was incredibly lovely.  Two big bedrooms, one of which had a pull-out couch and slept all 4 kids comfortably.  A big living room with a rolling ladder.  Mr. 13 had gotten a newspaper and did the crossword and sodoku with help from his brothers and everyone seemed happy to relax.  Mr. 4 pulled out his trusty sticker book (best purchase ever) and both David and I had hot showers.  And then we mustered the troops to try to explore London.
We decided on the Tower of London as our first stop as Mr. 4 was keen to see castles (ideally with a King, Queen, and Princess).  We bought tickets online avoiding the long line and gathered for the tour with the Yeoman.  We met a family from St. Louis also there visiting while we waited.  It quickly became clear after the tour started that it was not going to work given the crowds and our boys – Mr. 13 was very attentive but Mr. 7 and Mr. 4 couldn’t see or hear much and quickly lost interest.  So we headed off on our own.  We saw the crown jewels and Mr. 7 and Mr. 11 completed the kids scavenger hunt (a wonderful addition to almost all the sites we visited).  We ate our sandwiches in a doorway after in the rain and wondered what to do next.  An indoor activity seemed best given the persistent rain.  We decided to see the armor in the original castle and then head by bus to the British Museum.  Everyone loved the armor and the rain had slowed as we ran to the bus.  We easily caught the first which dropped us at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  No one seemed as excited as David and I did to see it, and the next bus stop was missing.  There were signs that said some routes had been diverted, but it wasn’t clear if ours was included.  After wandering for a while, we decided to take the train instead.  It was a bit of a walk to the station and the end was in the drenching rain but we made it and arrived at the British Museum soggy and our overnight flight beginning to show.  We had teatime in the great courtyard (which David and I had done in the past and felt very nostalgic about) and the sugar seemed to brighten everyone up.  We then did a bit of a whirlwind tour – the Lewis chessmen, Egyptian mummies, Samurai armor, Assyrian siege of Lachish and the lion hunt, the Rosetta Stone, and the Greek temple.  Time and energy ran out and we emerged to a bit of sunshine for our walk back to the Underground.  Mr. 13 and I stopped and got groceries for dinner while the others headed back (Mr. 4 sang “Home on the Range” the whole way home, in case anyone wasn’t sure if we were Americans), and he practiced his British accent for me on the way back.   A bit of dinner, hot showers and baths, and Danger Mouse, and everyone fell into bed.

Day 2 in London
After later sunrises in Cape Town due to the winter, everyone was up bright and early with the summer sun.  Only one day and lots to see.  We emerged from the Underground to sunshine and found ourselves right in front of Big Ben.  The boys posed for pictures with the prime minister statues and saw Jo Cox’s memorial and Nelson Mandela.  We started at Westminster Abbey (convincing Mr. 4 to come only because it was a “castle museum church”) and everyone loved it.  There were kings and queens for Mr. 4, a scavenger hunt for Mr. 7 and Mr. 11, and an audio guide for Mr. 13.  One of the docents(?) was only too glad to take a break from crowd management to explain the heraldry in the chapel to David and Mr. 4.  The boys left with gold chocolate coins for their work (the scavenger hunt prize) and we headed down Whitehall toward Trafalgar Square.  There was quite a crowd at 10 Downing Street (That was the day Theresa May took over was PM) and we could see lots of reporters on the street but not much else.  Pictures with the lions and it was clearly time for lunch.

 We ate at an old favorite – the basement café at St. Martin in the Fields and were the youngest by years.  Getting to the table with food proved difficult and we were a very grumpy crowd at lunch with everyone mad at each other.  Mr. 4 had not been easy since the near the end of Westminster and my back was still bothering me so I couldn’t carry him so that made things difficult.  We were a bit cheerier after eating and I convinced everyone that we could walk through St. James Park to see Buckingham Palace.  Nothing much was going on although the flag let us know that the queen was in residence.  Suddenly one of the guards yelled loudly at Mr. 7 to “get off the fence” and we realized that he had climbed rather far up (because he climbs everything and is a bit of a monkey).  We quickly gathered our brood and decided to get some energy out at the playground.  Mr. 13 had loved the Diana Memorial Playground in 2005 with its pirate ship and we thought it would be a wonderful break.  Unfortunately, it was quite a distance and everyone was tired.  We found a bus that went close but got on it going the wrong direction and realized at the same time our oyster cards were out of funds.  We got off and found the right bus but he wouldn’t let us on due to the cards so we trudged grumpily to Victoria station to fill them.  It was supposed to rain all afternoon and the sky was quite dark.  At that point it didn’t seem worth it to try to make it to the playground so we went to the Science Museum instead.  And it was every bit as wonderful as we remembered.  We started with a quick tea time (coffee for those who needed it) and then found Babbage’s difference engine, Stephenson’s Rocket, and a Cray Supercomputer.  Science revives everyone and by the time we left everyone was in a much better mood and the sun was somewhat shining so we decided that we would brave the 25 minute walk to the playground.  It was glorious.  Mr. 4 picked up sticks and ran in Hyde Park, Mr. 7 chased pigeons, and Mr. 11 and Mr. 13 were deep in conversation.  The parks in London are really wonderful – even better than the Common or Central Park.  They make a city vacation possible for our little troop.  The playground was a huge hit and the boys spent over an hour there before it was time to gather everyone up for dinner.  Every time we grabbed someone, someone else would disappear and it was another 20 minutes before we were walking again. 

We couldn’t leave London without eating in Wagamama.  Yes, there is one in Boston (3 actually) but we ate at Wagamama for the first time in 2001 when David was working in London and I had flown over to see him.  We ate there 4 times in 2005 when we were in London with Mr. 13 and Mr. 11 (then only 2.5 and 6 months) and they gave little Mr. 13 a t-shirt because he was so cute slurping up his noodles.  It’s a bit of a tradition.  And so we found ourselves at the Wagamama at High Street Kensington and everyone happily gobbled up dinner.  Mr. 13 with his traditional cha han, Mr. 11 also with cha han (no prawns for him), Mr. 7 with noodles and tofu, Mr. 4 with his own yaki soba and David and I with yasai katsu curry (no aubergine) and yaki soba to share.  We ambled back to our little flat, stopping to buy ice cream along the way, and enjoyed ice cream and a little Mythbusters before turning in.  In the end, Mr. 7 and Mr. 11 had a rather epic fight and had to be separated but it was a great end to a rather amazing vacation.

Travelling with 4 kids is not easy and we weren’t sure how it would go.  We learned that it’s possible and fun but there are battles along the way.  Everyone can carry their own luggage and we made it without checking any bags.  The boys are really not interested in souvenirs and need lots of time outdoors.  They can be incredibly polite and kind with each other and the world and then will completely clothesline someone or close the door in someone’s face because they are deep in conversation.  They are messy and loud but also love history and science.  We have kind and understanding friends who were very good to us but having our own space in London was really nice too.  Homeaway or VRBO is much better for a family of 6 than any hotel room and being able to grab a few groceries and head back when people are tired makes a huge difference.  The boys will happily hike up a mountain but complain about tired feet when they’ve been walking around a city for too long and then forget how tired they are when we hit the park.  Getting yelled at by a guard isn’t the worst thing and Mr. 4 made it through passport control in 2 countries despite telling everyone he is Bonzo the Bear.  We’re excited to be heading home to our cats and will have to think about our next adventure.  There are so many exciting possibilities.

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