We were in London, baby! If you don’t know that reference, you clearly do not watch enough Friends.
London was big. And busy. And complicated. But also great! Let me attempt to tell you about our experience without boring you yet while still trying to recreate the scene. These posts will be in the style of “Dear Diary”. A little more linear, a little more detail. Hope you are sitting down!
Day 1: Family Reunion!
Haley and I arrived from Iceland to meet up with Dan and Zoe, who had been there for 5 days already. Dan and Zoe didn’t do much during that time but they did go to the theater to see Hamilton and Thriller, which they reported to be a great time. The not-great time was that Dan came down with a really bad cold upon arrival and was pretty much sick as a dog the entire time we were in London. I’m sure it was just a coincidence that it was the first cold place he’s been to since the last time he was sick like that. (His words, not mine.) When Haley and I showed up, we kind of expected them to have the train system figured out, groceries in the fridge and the week’s itinerary lined up.
We were greeted with an empty fridge and a pile of dirty laundry. But we can’t blame them, Dan was really sick. He’s rarely sick, and never this long. So we were very sympathetic. By the time we arrived he was at least on his feet and out of bed. But barely.
So, Haley and I landed and thanks to an $80 Uber ride (no more Medellin prices!) we found our Airbnb and headed out for a late lunch as a full family once again. First impressions include discovering that London has an intense love of sourdough bread (I love sourdough! But it doesn’t love me!) and there are a lot of people running on the streets of London. And not running like the exercise kind, more like the “I’ve got to be somewhere FAST” kind. We soon realized it was mostly people catching the bus or the train.
Speaking of buses, man you really have to watch where you walk. One slight meandering off the sidewalk and you could end up flatter than a pancake! Those buses have no mercy and they are NOT coming from the direction we were expecting.
Next stop after lunch was the grocery store. There we learned that London also has an intense love of prepared foods. This is great for weary travelers who don’t want to eat out all the time but definitely don’t have the time or motivation to cook. And for a family that has vastly different eating habits, this is even better. Haley and I found a substantial gluten-free section with lots of gluten free bread items and we were happy.
A note about our apartment…We had decided that in London we would “rough it” a bit more on our lodging. Our usual “3 bedrooms with great internet and spacious living areas, maybe even an office for Dan” was no where to be found within any reasonable budget. So we booked a 1-bedroom flat northeast of downtown. We were ready to rough it well enough but Dan’s sickness meant that he got the one and only bed. Haley and Zoe roughed it on the floor until Zoe ended up with bruises all up and down her spine and I made her move to the fold out couch with me. Haley slept on the floor on the couch cushions and tolerated it well enough. This was not ideal but we were there for 7 days so we made it work and tried not to kill each other in the process. We were successful. Dan and I were actually really proud of the girls for how well they managed the less-than-ideal circumstances. Could it be that we are raising resilient children??? Could it be that we can’t call “tolerating a 1 bedroom apartment over our typical 3 bedroom”, as being “resilient”? I’ll let you be the judge. But nonetheless, accolades were delivered to said children for being such troopers.
Day 2: Train configuration, Westminster Abby, another reunion!
On Day 2 we hauled ourselves out of bed, the Icelandic travelers still jet lagged and Dan still sick. But this was London, baby! We had stuff to see. So we got to the nearest train station and spent about an hour trying to figure out how to buy tickets and where to go and how. It took awhile but we figured it out, after a few false starts. It was that day that we made the agreement that we should never run for a train. Running for a train does not allow adequate time to double check signage and train titles to ensure it is going in the direction we wanted it to. There was backtracking y’all, I admit it. But you live and learn and that day we were glad this was a practice run and we didn’t have to be anywhere at a certain time.
We finally made our way to Westminster Abby, feeling very accomplished for the 4-train journey. The Abby was mildly interesting until Haley found the grave markers inside the Abbey and then it got a lot more interesting for her. Charles Darwin’s grave caused her to disobey the no pictures rule and snap a clandestine photo. Then Zoe found the gift shop and it became really interesting for her too. Zoe and her newly-acquired debit card came out with a lovely little hat that didn’t leave her head most of the trip. Zoe loves hats.
Towards the end of the afternoon we managed to connect with some great friends, the Walshes, whom we met in Thailand, roomed with in Mexico and now are meeting again in London! And of course the World Famous Jamie Cate, who was my sister-wife-without-the-weird-part in Medellin. She was living outside of London at the time too so we managed to squeeze in an afternoon with our three families. The nice weather made it possible to hang out in the park and wander the city.
Day 3: Buckingham Palace fail, Churchill’s War Room
Day 3 was rainy and we learned that London has somewhat unpredictable weather. One sunny day does not mean the next day will be nice. But we brought along our umbrellas and got out of the house. Destination: Buckingham Palace.
A few weeks ago, after the girls saw a video on YouTube, they became very interested in seeing the changing of the guards. And after a forced-watch of Netflix’s The Crown when we lived in the Dominican Republic, (which, after the first episode, was no longer forced!) they wanted to see Buckingham Palace. So we left Sickie Dan at home and headed into the city. We were feeling quite proud of ourselves for making it all the way in with plenty of time to spare. We even got a spot right at the front of the barrier so we could clearly see the guards march by. Except when they didn’t. The rain showed up and the guards did not and after a hour and no real announcement, we wandered off, feeling dejected.
That afternoon we had tickets to tour Churchill’s War Rooms, which was something that came highly recommended by quite a few people. During World War 2, Winston Churchill and many of his staff relocated underground to live and to work as they navigated the challenges of war. This tour took you underground to their quarters. Our ticket was for a family of 2 adults and up to 6 kids. We felt like we should do someone a nice favor so after some Body Language Evaluation, we picked two girls (we thought they were mother and daughter but ended up they were just friends) and let them come into our “family” and get in for free. I’m pretty sure that was the most memorable part of the tour for Haley and Zoe. They learned some good history from the war rooms, don’t get me wrong, but as for details that stand out about the day, letting in some extra people at no charge was one. I guess kindness is never a bad thing to remember.
The war rooms were really incredible and interesting and definitely worth the cost of entry. No pictures were allowed but take my word for it, it was fantastic.
After the war rooms, we had no real place to go and it continued to be very rainy weather so we planned our next move. Where do the Shermanos love to go? The mall!
So the girls and I figured out the trains once again (y’all the Citymapper app is a lifesaver in London) and made it out to the mall. We had planned to meet Dan out there and see the movie Rocketman (so apropos to be seen in London!) but evidently the UK nanny state knows best and they would not allow anyone under 15 to see it, even with a parent. So that was another fail for the day. But no avail – we ate at Nando’s, which is a rite of passage in London, I guess, and then did a little retail wandering. My only request was that we make our way back home before dark, which was not hard given that the sun sets around 9:30 p.m.! We were delighted to learn that we only needed one – ONE! – train to get home. It was a long journey of almost an hour, but it was interesting to watch the scenery (this one was above ground) and a blessing not to have to navigate a lot of changes.
Day 4: British Museum on the DD bus
Next stop? British Museum of History! This was a must-do even though we don’t usually love museums. But this one was important! We checked our nifty app and it directed us there on a bus. A doubledecker one! These are not just for the tourists, it’s really how Londoners get around. We caught it just a few steps from our flat and after about 50 minutes we got off a block from the museum. London, your public transportation is on fleek.
The British museum was pretty fantastic, but pretty overwhelming. We evaluated the directory, agreed on where we wanted to go and off we went. Highlights included the Rosetta Stone, the man from 11,000 B.C. (not a typo) and the Shabti dolls.
I’d like to thank the Ford company for the awesome family room downstairs in the museum. I asked about lockers and they directed me down there. Not only could you use a locker for no charge, but you could use a restroom with no line, and have a great lunch (we brought a picnic) at a quiet table. More than once I remarked on my appreciation for this space to get away from the busy museum. I believe it was only for families with YOUNG children, but we conveniently glossed over that fact.
The museum’s gift store was pretty awesome and purchases were made. Dan bailed early, having reached the end of his energy and tolerance for wandering big buildings. The girls and I explored a few more shops before meeting him back at home for some prepared food for dinner. Another great day in London: CHECK.
To Be Continued
That’s a lot of London details, amirite? You might be growing weary of the narrative by now so it’s time to have a spot of tea and we’ll pick up where we left off in a wee bit.