Sunday, December 7, 2008

Skipping Through London with a British Accent

I love London. It is the most wonderful city in the world. I lived and studied in London during college and my love affair with the city started then. To return to my old stomping grounds - where they speak ENGLISH and follow rules and are so very proper - had me smiling from ear to ear all week. Kirk kept laughing at me because I would literally SKIP through the city and he even said I started speaking with a British accent. Oh well! I mean who couldn't fall for a city that writes on the street which way to look for traffic when crossing, that has double decker red buses, funny phone booths and streets with names like the "Man in the Moon Passage"?!?!

We took the Eurostar train direct from Brussels to London in a little over 2 hours, going under the Chunnel. We took a "black cab" to our hotel and this cab was big enough for us to wheel Connor into the car with the BOB stroller unfolded so as not to disturb her. Gotta love the Brits! Our hotel was right near the Glochester Road tube stop. London was crisp and cool and clear. The next morning while Kirk went to work I decided that Connor and I would not ride the tube, but rather walk everywhere so we could fully soak it all in (you miss a lot by jetting around underground). So we went by some of my favorite spots - the V&A museum, Royal Albert Hall, Harrod's, Hyde Park and on and on. When we got to Buckingham Palace I was hoping to catch the Changing of the Guard. When I asked a constable (British policeman) to confirm the ceremony at 11 AM he laughed at me and said, "Not today, today the Queen is parading down the street to open Parliament!" Whoa. So we staked out our place along the parade route and because it was a cool day in December there was barely a crowd. While waiting I got more info on this "opening Parliament" - apparently it only happens once a year with all the regal pomp and extravagance you would hope for. There are lots of traditions and rituals that go along with this 'royal opening' including taking a 'ceremonial hostage' of the government to Buckingham and also searching Parliament for Gun Powder in the cellars before the Queen arrives.

So Connor and I got a real treat as first the thousands of guards/soldiers paraded the streets, followed by the royal horses (Connor's favorite - she called out for the 'neigh neighs' all day while clapping her hands!), then the Crown Jewels, and finally the Queen herself. Don't you think she is waving just at us in the photos?!?! I was so glad we had walked and happened upon it all.

Kirk met us for lunch at my favorite pizza place in Leicester Square and then it was off to say hello again to all my favorite London Haunts with Connor - the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden and then to see the shops on Regent, Oxford, and Carneby Streets. The Christmas lights on the department stores were absolutely breathtaking. When we returned back to the hotel, the concierge could only laugh at us in disbelief because we must have walked at least 5 miles during my "skip" through London!

Day 2 brought more sites. We mailed in our request for an application to enter the lottery for Wimbledon tickets via the Royal Mail - fingers crossed. We walked again an absurd distance (probably 6-7 miles) all along the Thames river from Chelsea to the Tower of London - seeing this time Parliament, Big Ben, the Tate Modern Collection, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Tower Bridge - all before lunchtime! We met Kirk for lunch at the Science Museum - via our first trip on the tube (I caved after a morning of so much walking!) I was nervous to maneuver the BOB stroller thru all the stairs and escalators in the underground....but I found if I just approached the up staircases that it didn't take long for a willing stranger to offer to help carry the stroller up. Another reason why I love London!

That night Connor and I traveled to St. Margarets, just outside London, to spend the night with our dear friend Fiona Dickenson and her family. Connor had a ball playing with Jemima (3 years) and Gabriel (17 months). She also discovered her new favorite fruit - pomegranate - who knew?!?

Finally we traveled back to London and made a quick stroll through Kensington Gardens/Palace to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, which was a lot of fun! And then OUR crown jewel of the trip was to spend our last night with Betty Dalrymple. I lived with Betty and John for my semester abroad back in 1998. John has since gone to Heaven and is dearly missed by all of us. Betty welcomed us into her house and it was like coming home again. I call Betty my "British Mum" and now she is Connor's "British Grandmum"!!! Just to give you an idea of how interesting and wonderful Betty is here are just two of many fascinating tidbits: (1) Betty has just returned a week ago from Syria where she went to Damascus and saw many incredible ruins; (2) for the past 3 years Betty has volunteered at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. She serves as an emotional and logistical support to those who represent themselves during appeals and don't have enough money to afford a barrister (attorney). Pretty amazing, huh? Betty fed us and entertained us and listened to us with focus and love.

Finally on Sat morning we awoke in England on a major Belgian holiday - St. Niklaas Day! In the Belgian tradition, Santa (or Sinterklaas) comes on the night of Dec 5, not on Christmas. Therefore all gift giving takes place on this day, leaving Christmas Day to really focus on the birth of Christ and the togetherness of family - rather than the stress of presents. I really like this tradition! So, St. Niklaas brought Connor a London Bus as we celebrated the day in England.

The British accent has now worn off as we are back in Brussels and my feet and legs are pretty achy from all the skipping - but the memory of this magical city remains!

Some new things Connor is now doing:

- Walking backwards - Connor has discovered she can walk backwards and runs forward only to walk back with an expectant look of curiosity and glee. It is hilarious!

- One memory I will never, ever forget not just on this trip but throughout Europe is how singing to Connor calms her. My tunes have been belted now in Portugal, Spain, Holland, Germany, Belgium and England and on trains in between. Wish I had a better singing voice!

- When we travel with Connor and stay all in one hotel room, Kirk and I usually have to literally hide on the floor on the opposite side of the bed from her crib as she goes to sleep. Otherwise she will see us! On this trip Kirk and I got Indian takeout our first night in London and it was quite a site to see us lying on the floor trying to eat Indian while hiding from our little one!

- New words for Connor include: "Queen"; "Belt" (as in Daddy's belt); "Cheez" for the camera


itdoesntgetbetterthanthis said...

I can't blame you for skipping and turning on a British accent - London IS a wonderful city!! It sounds like you are really taking full advantage of your time over seas!

And you saw the queen! how cool is that.

Shannon, Tony, Grayson & Max said...

I LOVED London at Christmastime and your photos bring me back. It is truly magical!!