We went to London yesterday. It is only 40 miles north of here. But because of congestion charges and traffic jams, we knew we couldn’t just drive into the heart of London. Also, we needed to stop at my in-laws because they needed groceries. We left later than we had wanted due to various things, but it was about 8:50AM. I had an appointment regarding work at 11:45. My in-laws live in a southern suburb of London, so we were going to drop things off, walk to the train station, and take a train and subway to where we needed to go. That meant we had to leave their place around 10. Leaving at 8:50 meant we were cutting it very close. Distance-wise, they live 20-25 miles away, but it usually takes us about 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to their house. That’s something that outsiders have a hard time comprehending about England.
Because we had to go to London, we decided to make it a family day out after the appointment, so the kids came along. Otherwise, they would have stayed with Nanny and Granddad. The walk to the train station was not too bad but they kept complaining because parts of it was uphill and they walk very slowly. We were in a rush, but taking a bus to the station would have taken more time. Somehow, we managed to make the appointment just in time.
Afterwards, instead of heading towards some museums which we had talked about, the kids were distracted by Regent’s Park. What they wanted was a playground, really, not a park, but seeing “park” made them think playground, so that’s where we headed. It was a beautiful place, and HUGE. I wouldn’t have minded spending the day there. There were maps of the park everywhere because you could get lost easily. There were several gardens and avenues of trees, in addition to a boating pond and of course, the London Zoo. But, the older girl wanted the playground, so we had to head that way. We only managed to get to the boating pond before I had to stop and eat my lunch, the others having eaten theirs earlier. I sat at the bandstand area while the others sat on some deck chairs that were placed on the grass. Eventually, they joined me because the younger daughter wanted some food as well. It was just in time because the “deck chair warden” came around to collect money for the use of the chairs (GBP 2 for 4 hours). Several people left when he approached them, and only a few paid to continue sitting. We never made it to the playground because we managed to convince Miss I Want a Playground to go to the museums.
We got to South Kensington and decided on the Natural History Museum. The Victoria and Albert was across the street from it and the Science Museum was a block away. I couldn’t see the Science Museum but the V&A and the Natural History Museum were both humongous. Initially, we commented on the poor use of space because we entered a huge room with a few pieces in the middle and some displays along the walls. We were in the geological area, an area of particular interest to our older daughter who likes to collect gems and rocks (the other also likes to collect rocks, the ordinary kind). Next, we entered the bird room. There was a lot more here and in a smaller space. It was so crowded that you could not feel the ventilation/air conditioning in the room. The day had started very cloudy and cool, but by afternoon it was extremely sunny and hot. Indoors, it was very stuffy. It was so bad we decided to come back another day outside of the summer holiday period, so we left after only 30 minutes in the museum. It’s a good thing that admission is free to these museums; otherwise, it would have been a wasted day.
Our younger daughter wanted to go to Build-a-Bear Workshop, so we gave in, after the aborted park and museum. I don’t know why she always wants to get another Build-a-Bear because Pooh Bear is the only one she always carries with her. We took the Piccadilly line to Covent Garden. Now, I want to insert a warning to visitors about the subway exit at Covent Garden. Covent Garden subway station has no escalator; passengers are returned to street level by elevator or stairs. I was not paying attention, but my husband stated there was an announcement saying the stairs were quicker but it was alot. He asked the kids which they wanted, the stairs or the escalator. They chose the stairs and ran up. I thought, we took two escalators down the other way, so it couldn’t be that bad. Boy, was I wrong! The stairs were practically empty, and as I went up I can understand why. It was a steep spiral staircase and I was on the inside while my husband was on the outside. I was essentially going up vertically and was so breathless, I had to stop a couple of times to rest. I know I’m out of shape, but it was good to see that I wasn’t the only one. My husband was puffing and the few adventurous ones who joined us on the stairs were complaining as well. Of course, we also laughed at the whole thing because we hadn’t expected the stairs to be so steep. The kids were well out of sight and waiting for us at the top. By the time I got there, my legs were trembling. That was when my husband said we had walked an equivalent of 15 storeys.
The cobbled stones of Covent Garden proved to be a nightmare on our feet after the day of walking we had had. We all felt blisters forming. Build-a-Bear was no better ventilated or less crowded, so I sat outside watching all the tourists and shoppers while my husband accompanied the girls. He had to pay for the purchases anyway. A TV crew were doing a small piece on the opera outside the National Opera House, and there were several street performers. It was quite interesting.
From there, we took a couple buses home. Now, at the beginning of the day, when we arrived at the train station, we bought travel cards for the day for all of us. For one price, we were able to use all the public transport all day. It’s the most economical way to travel around London. At the end of the day, the bus driver informed us that we didn’t need travel cards for the kids unless they were over 11. We knew they could ride on the bus for free but we had been told previously that they needed tickets on the train. The driver said they were free there as well. It made us wonder why the ticket operator hadn’t asked the children’s ages. Not that we paid much for them, but any amount of savings is smart. Also, if the kids didn’t have tickets for the trains/subways, how did they get in and out of the stations? Something we’d need to investigate in the future.