This visit was especially euphoric since not only did we have many fun plans and we were staying with Betty (more on her later), but my best friend from high school and maid of honor, Kate, came to join us for the weekend. Kate is probably my oldest and dearest friend who actually knew me even before I met Kirk! She was in Italy for the week for work (tough life, I know), and she generously flew to London to share the weekend with us. Kirk had exciting plans of his own so we started the day bee-bopping down the Thames to the London Eye. It was a gorgeous, hot day and we melded right in to the tourist scene.
I underestimated though how crazy it would be to ride The Eye with Connor. They made me take her out of the stroller for safety reasons. Little did "they" know that taking her out would mean she was loose to cause havoc. I think Connor ended up mopping every last piece of dust and dirt in the pod by lying and sliding along the floors. We were all filthy and exhausted by the end. Not something I would recommend with a busy toddler who can't seem to sit still!
We exited and I think we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. The other passengers didn't seem overly bothered by Connor, but I thought I was going to pull every strand of hair out of my head trying to keep her still, disciplined and in one place. She was not at all frightened of the ride or the height, like we worried. Instead Connor scampered in delight from one end to the other of the glass capsule. We are definitely working on the whole minding mom and sitting still concept. It was a heck of a way to kick off our time with Kate! She got a crash course in the good, the bad, and the ugly of parenting a two year old! Thankfully old friends understand these things and love you anyway.
Connor settled down after The London Eye ride and took a nap. Phew, peace. We walked to Leicester Square to the Half Price Ticket Booth to buy tickets to see a show that night. And then we backtracked to the river and walked along the Thames Path past the Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern and the National Theatre. We were starving and on a mission. Determined to find Borough Market and to seek out some highly-recommended grilled cheese sandwiches.
Borough Market is London's oldest and perhaps trendiest marketplace. It was like a huge scavenger hunt to find the acclaimed sandwiches. But we were completely taken with the market, which must be a foodie's paradise! There were the most gorgeous fruits and vegetables I have ever seen. And plenty of "blue-babies" and "straw-babies" for Connor!
While we certainly enjoyed the mazelike aisles of fresh goodies at Borough Market, we walked from one end to the other trying to find "Bill," the elusive grilled cheese man. Kate recently met and befriended NY food critic Ruth Reichl who is editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine. When Ruth found out of Kate's upcoming plans to visit London she insisted we find these sandwiches. Ai, Ai! Who were we to second guess her food prowess?!? Problem was there was no clear marker for Bill. And pushing a stroller across the packed market proved a formidable challenge. Every time we asked someone they pointed us in a totally different direction telling us we would 'smell' Bill's cheese stand and that he was under a red umbrella on the other side of the market.
Hungry, but determined we pressed on until sure enough we smelled and found BILL under the red umbrella! We beelined it to the grilled cheese line with our mouths watering and eyes bulging at the oozing cheesy goodness in front of us. We even found a Ruth Reichl article at the stand. Small world! We felt in with the in-crowd that she had sent us!
We grabbed our sandwiches and joined the crowds picnicking at nearby Southwark Cathedral.The sandwiches were every bit as good as Rachel Reichl promised. Heavenly! And totally worth the hunt! I lived in London for months in college and never heard of this market. Leave it to my cool, metropolitan DC friend to come and point us to a perfect Saturday spot!
By this time we were all three matted in dirt, melon juice and sweat from our day. We went back to Betty's to refresh and shower and then met Kirk at Victoria station for dinner and to hand Connor over. Kirk was babysitting while we went out on the town! Kate is my kindred spirit in loving Broadway musicals. Together we can belt out any theatre tune you throw at us. (Kate is the only friend I have that I can admit to skipping down the streets of the National Mall in DC one 4th of July singing Cats, Les Miserables and Miss Saigon lyrics.) We had tickets this night in London to see "Wicked!" and after a somewhat trying day of juggling friendship and motherhood I was in need of a girls night! We loved Wicked. It made me feel like a teenager again waiting for the curtain to go up and giving a standing ovation. We spilled onto the streets of London full with song and dance as we rode the tube and walked back to Betty's in the moonlight. Can I mention again how much I love London?!!?
Thankfully the next day all was right with the world! Connor was back to her sweet, agreeable, adorable self and we all relaxed. We embraced the London tourist mantra and went to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.Connor adored the neigh neighs and the "MUSIC!" She is still talking about that music 2 weeks later! It was another scorcher so I couldn't help feeling sorry for the guards in all their getup. And to make things even more difficult they had to navigate their march around tons of horse poop. They must rehearse this though because they didn't miss a beat! Why they don't have a pooper scooper is beyond me!
After all the pomp of the Changing of the Guard we bid Kirk adieu and walked through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens towards the Notting Hill neighborhood. We passed this long corridor with what felt like miles of creative and unique artwork.
We ate lunch at an Indian spot and shopped around Notting Hill. I am not a huge fan of British food per se, but lawsy the ethnic dishes all over the city are cheap and deeeelish!
Living it up in Notting Hill! Just as cute and endearing as in the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts movie!
This sign is why I adore London! Where else in Europe are the smokers warned and booted to the back? I am always having to dodge them to keep our lungs clean.
I ducked into Starbucks for a major summer indulgence, a Mango Frozen Frappacino (try it!) Kate hung outside with Connor so I was free to maneuver and order without a stroller. I looked out the window and saw them laughing. It was quite a sight - Starbucks (we don't have them in Belgium); the red double decker bus going by; and my sweet friend laughing with my daughter. I am a lucky duck to feel such love!