So we didn’t PLAN to travel to London for the Jubilee, but we ended up there for the “bank holiday weekend” as it’s called here in the UK (That’s what it’s called when they have a Monday off, but this time it was Monday AND Tuesday because of the Diamond Jubilee.) I have a friend from Texas who flew over here with her mom specifically for the events – she went to watch the Queen ride by on the river cruise on the Thames Sunday night, was in the park in front of Buckingham Palace Monday night for the lighting of the beacon and the concert with Sir Elton John, Sir Paul Mcaurtney and others, and even got up at 4am Tuesday morning to be in the front row for when the Queen and other royals have their procession through the city and Balcony appearance at Buckingham Palace (way to go Katie!) I checked up on my facts from yesterday’s post and wanted to say she was crowned when she was 25, not 19. She parried Prince Philip of Greece when she was 19, and then ascended the throne after her father – it was George VI – died when she was visiting Kenya at age 25. For our humble little family of 7 (make that 8 with Meriwether) none of these events were in the plans for us, as the children just wanted to “ride a double decker bus.” This was a requirement of moving to England, and they’ve been waiting for it since last summer! So the planning began…
I wanted us to get a weekend there with the children, and we have a friend in the British Navy who is an Admiral at the Ministry of Defence in the city, so he offered to loan us his flat any weekend that he was home with his family in Southwest England. Since June 4 and 5 were holidays, and Meriwether would be around to help us with all the travel, and we were going to the concert June 1-3, it made going into London June 3-5 the perfect fit. Of course, it didn’t occur to me at first that since we had June 4 and 5 off for the celebrations that the stuff was all going to be happening in London (I blame this on pregnancy) but pretty soon I realized what I had done. Oh well! We’ll just be in London for the Jubilee I guess!
It really didn’t slow us down – other than one huge traffic jam yesterday afternoon around the time of the Balcony appearance finishing up, when huge crowds of people completely clad in the Union Jack were swarming the roads trying to push into the nearby tube stations – and there were even a few money-saving deals thanks to the Jubilee 🙂 So now I sit here, snugly back in our old house in the English countryside, feet up, finishing my Krispy Kreme millionaire’s shortbread donut at 11:38am, having just gotten out of bed in an attempt to recover from the arduous duty of sightseeing for a weekend and running around to concerts (and running up big hills), getting on and off the tube a myriad of times (with all the stairs that entails from station to station), and schmucking around lots of stuff in my 35th week of pregnancy. I have to give a shout out to my awesome kids, who won’t be reading this actually, for letting me stay in bed so long, and to my awesome husband for taking the kids back to the flat while Meriwether and I finished traipsing about. I have never loved my tempurpedic mattress so much as today, and the fact that the baby was in her own dark room (and therefore slept in as long as I did,) and I am so thankful that the children “do pregnancy” so well — they know when their mom is broken and needs to sleep as much as possible – they play quietly together, or get on the computer to do some schoolwork or look at Lego building instructions, and they fix their own cereal. If the baby cries, they’ll come let me know I need to get up, but for today, she was as worn out as me, and I found her still sleeping at 11am! (We didn’t get in til 10 last night, and then ate our chicken for dinner, and she only had little catnaps in the stroller and car.) When we stopped to refuel on the way home, we bought a dozen donuts which we all enjoyed on the way home, and the leftovers were supposed to be for the children today – but they were calling my name (I think I have about 3 donuts a year), and I’m taking this whole day off to recover 🙂 I deserve a donut after my weekend! (Millionaire’s Shortbread is a concoction sold over here in every coffee shop – even Starbucks – with a shortbread cookie on the bottom, a layer of caramel, and then a layer of hardened chocolate on top. So the donut was chocolate glazed with shortbread crumbles on top, with a caramel cream centre :))
Okay on to the details of London! I wanted to say one extra thing to any readers (all two of you) who are considering a trip to England and want to know about where to visit, etc. We have visited most of the UK in the short year we’ve been here, and it will take me probably 4 months to share all the trip reports on this blog, so IF THERE’S A PARTICULAR PLACE that you’re thinking of visiting and want to know what the little Armstrong family thought about it, let me know ahead of time, and I will blog about that place next 🙂
We parked outside of town at one of the furthest west Underground stations – Ruislip – about 65 minutes from our house, took the subway in to Royal Oak, and navigated to the flat using a very helpful map from the Admiral and our smartphones (I love those things.) It was perfect for us with a bedroom, living room, and kitchen – just enough space to relax a bit and to make some meals, and too little for us to want to hang out in it all day 🙂 The first night we went to a nearby Spanish place for paella, which I think I mentioned Sunday night. Monday morning, the baby was awake at 7 and woke me up with her need to do something on the pottie, and sure enough, she rewarded my diligent and swift alighting from my bed by producing something stinky on the toilet, checking that thing off our list for the day. Since no one else was awake but my husband (I think I’ll start calling him John on here, since anyone reading this probably already knows his name!), I popped Greer into the stroller and took off for the corner grocery store for breakfast items. Unfortunately, it was closed til 8 (it was now 7:40), so I quickly looked up Starbucks in my phone and found one a short .3 miles away. On my way there I passed a smaller store which was open, along with a McDonalds. So I picked up things for the next day’s breakfast at the store, grabbed some breakfast sandwiches at McDonalds, and then got 3 coffees for the adults, making it back to the flat by around 8:30, the savior of all. Meriwether said she loved the sight of Starbucks in the morning, and the kids were happy with the rare “treat” of a sausage McMuffin. Living in the UK has reduced our “fast food” intake to about 1-2 times a month, which includes stops at ANY pop-in/pop-out type place, including Starbucks, because there just aren’t many spots to stop at within the radius of where we usually travel. Add to that the fact that I rarely leave the house with the children on my own, and there’s really no need to eat out. When I do run an errand alone, and I find myself hungry, there just isn’t anywhere to stop. I really think America’s obsession with fast food is only because the industry knows its target audience – people who want convenience. Over here, there are McDonalds without drive-thrus! (I’ve only ever seen one of those before – in Pebble Beach – other than the ones in big cities.) Everyone seems to expect to be inconvenienced. It’s odd, but good, in that it keeps us from eating that junk more regularly!
Anyway, we eventually were ready to go out, and started the day with a trip on the Tube to the Tower of London.
On the train
And now for the Tower…
Meriwether and Greer
No photography allowed inside, but the jewels were amazing. One crown was gone with a little sign saying simply, “In Use.”
A lift of the Tower Bridge, seen from the walls of the Tower of London
Took this one because of the double decker buses 🙂 After walking around the Tower for about 90 minutes, we were wiped out and stopped at a nearby hotel for lunch. By this time it was around 3:00pm I believe, so John and the children were ready to stop the sightseeing and to head back to the flat (via a toy store and a stop for dinner.) Here’s the Queen (made of Legos) with the children, taken by John. They were at the 6-floor toy store (Hamley’s on Regent Street) for well over an hour – maybe two, and then they had another super long walk from the underground to Pizza Hut because of taking a few wrong turns – so they didn’t make it home til after 8:30pm anyway!
Meriwether and I kept on – going in to the Tower Bridge Exhibit, and then walking forever (and riding the tube, with tons of walking from one train to another) to Liberty, a really old, amazing store in the center of town.
Cleopatra’s Needle, as seen from the top of the Tower Bridge
Inside the Victorian Engine Rooms – One of the steam-driven hydraulic pumps which used to be how they raised and lowered the bridge.
On Regent Street, heading over to find Liberty
Liberty was founded in 1875 by Arthur Liberty, and then in the 1920s the Tudor-style building fronting Marlborough St (off Regent) was built from the timbers of two British Naval ships (during the height of the Tudor revival.)
Underneath the clock is written: “No minute gone comes ever back again, take heed and see ye nothing do in vain.”
Meriwether took the above picture and the next at Liberty.
After Liberty, we tried to see Buckingham Palace. It was about a mile walk, so we quickly stopped into Starbucks for a cold drink (a bit of fortification!) before heading over to Hyde Park. Unfortunately, we were too late, and they weren’t letting anyone in to the park entrances, since the Jubilee Concert was starting in a little while. There was a steady stream of people exiting the park since, unless you had tickets into the special area, there would be no getting near enough to the Palace to even see it.
Foiled, we dropped down into the tube station there and headed over to Westminster. When we stepped out of the station, we were right in front of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye (which was across the water.) We snapped a few photos and then walked along, stopping to gawk in amazement at Westminster Abbey, heading towards our show.
Big Ben, of course, adjacent to Parliament (better picture of that later from The London Eye)
Here’s the view of The London Eye, built in 2000 and originally called The Millennium Wheel, from over at Big Ben.
Approaching Westminster Abbey
Looking back at Parliament
the side of Westminster Abbey
Big Ben, Parliament, amazing rainbow
Westminster Abbey – I must tour this if I get the chance.
We had another 1-2 mile walk in store, navigating again with my cellphone 🙂 We quickly ran into a Pret to grab a Mozzarella and Tomato Croissant and to change into our fancier outfits for viewing “Wicked.” We hopped across the street to the theater, arriving just minutes before the start of the show!
Below is a picture of the flats where we stayed.
On Tuesday morning, I had planned one of my three runs for the week, but I decided (I think, wisely) to count my 5-6 miles of quick walking – along with waaaay too many flights of stairs for someone this pregnant – from the day before as a workout. My feet and ankles were still swollen from so much exertion without resting, and from such a short night’s sleep. Meriwether packed up and left before 8am for her trip to Prague, and we piddled around, having eggs and bagels for breakfast and doing most of the packing. Around noon we finally left on the tube to find the tour office to have our tickets printed out for the double decker bus tour. We then walked over to a bus stop and hopped on to the Hop-on/Hop-off bus, enjoying the short spell without rain up on top of the bus. We saw a few of the sights and then stopped around 2:30 for lunch when we spied a Chipotle!
Pictures from the Bus Tour — Harrod’s
Above – Gabriel looking out at Hyde Park Corner – the crowds around Buckingham Palace waiting to see the Queen.
When we got back on the bus after lunch, apparently the Balcony Appearance of the Royal Family had just finished, and traffic was bad enough to cause us to sit still for about 10 minutes. Then, presumably due to road closures for the events, the bus took a detour, ending up over at The London Eye via backroads and such. We got off there for a spell in The Eye, and the rain really picked up.
Scenes from The Eye: Houses of Parliament
Your guess is as good as mine.
Looking down from above to Westminster (a great depiction of the weather as well – cold, rainy, and gray)
Making funny faces, in front of Parliament
And here they all are with Big Bentley (that’s what Gabriel kept calling it – from Cars II): Patience, 9 yrs old
Gabriel, 7 yrs old
Liesl, 5 yrs old
Claire, 4 yrs old
Greer, 21 months old (John took all these great shots while I was literally lying down resting on the bench in the middle of our pod :))
After The Eye, the kids had some soft serve ice creams, huddled under an awning, and it was finally time to start the trek home. We caught the underground back to the flat where we finished the packing and cleaning and then walked again to the station to get the train back to our car. Talk about a looooooooooong day. This all makes it sound short, but dragging 5 kids around in the rain (and me – I was probably the limiting factor for our speed) from station to station was a bit of work, and getting drenched when a car sped through a puddle while I waited to cross over to the flat was just the right finishing touch. I made the journey home in pajama pants and one of John’s long sleeved t-shirts because my cute dress was too wet and cold 😉 What a weekend! Now you see why I need to spend the day with my feet up 🙂 *Writing this uber-long blog post helped me to rest all day! Awesome!!
Leaving you with our last look at The London Eye and Big Ben, as we walked under the train tracks leading us over to Waterloo Station