Reporting from London
13.04.2012 - 19.04.2012 9 °C
We made it. Minor panic when we arrived at Pudong airport and queued to check in as Mum was handed a letter that advised that because our flight was overbooked we wouldn't have seats on the plane... however as soon as we questioned it, the attendant said that we had been given the wrong letter. Then we were given another letter that offered £125 if you voluntarily gave up your seat... now we are travelling on budget seats anyway, so can't possibly get another flight for that price, would get no refund and would have to pay 130RMB to get home again anyway and would not get to London! We hadn't checked in online because Dad had identified a possible issue with the seat allocation after they had already paid AUD150 to pick specific seats, and then they reallocated them and gave them seats window and aisle and kindly put Didi between them... although we had said we were travelling together British Airways shouldn't have decided to sit a three year old away from his mother, and should have given three seats together to me, Jie Jie and Didi. Anyway, boarding done, safety demonstration completed (physically not a video, because the player was not working... ), take off complete and we were on our way. But, after managing to delay the kids from starting the in seat entertainment until the seat belt sign went off, there was clearly a problem... time and again the announcements indicated they just needed to reboot the system and it would start up... come on hurry up, we want Ceebeebies! Alas, as time went on, I and the kids were getting restless, I opted to let them crack into the iPod personal entertainment units... we then had a relatively quiet and tantrum free flight. Of course the kids both fell asleep as we were coming in to land.
Arriving at Terminal 5 at Heathrow was a shock... the number of people was staggering. I was carrying Didi in the Ergo, but he'd woken up, and wanted to walk, and encouraging Jie Jie to walk, but she wanted to sleep, and I pointed out to her how easy it could be to lose her, but we managed to move through the terminal, catch the little train and get to the arrivals hall, where we were shepherded up more escalators, with additional people and then at the top, what could be more horrifying, but to be directed away from the immigration hall to join a queue which was easily over 100m long... With Mum, Dad and Jie Jie close behind, I asked an official if there was any possibility of being fast tracked as the kids were exhausted and their bodies were telling them it was well and truly bed time in Shanghai! Fortunately we were whisked through and told to join another queue at least in the immigration hall! There was a sign on the ropes that assisted the queue to snake towards the desks that indicated that waiting time was expected to be at least 45 mins from that point. So as we got to a bend in the line, I managed to attract another official's attention and again asked if there was anything we could do to jump the queue, and explained to him that we'd travelled half way round the world and with kids about to collapse, and although he let us through to the 'Special Assistance' desk where there were only 3 groups ahead of us, he said that there were too many people travelling with children to provide a special family lane. I was so happy that I'd been the one to ask - and could see a few unhappy looks from other parents still in the queue. Half the immigration desks were closed in the foreign passport holder section, it was truly hopeless, and I cannot imagine what they are planning to do with additional crowds in July/August for the Olympics, but it didn't look much better for EU passport holders either!
Collected our luggage, and finally made it out into the airport, where with much relief I found our driver, who was taking us to the flat in Islington, our home for the next fortnight! Traffic and roadworks in London was heavy going, but we made it there in about an hour, and were relieved to see Marns waiting for us on the street when we pulled up. Our flat is small and basic, and I am in very close quarters with the kids sharing a double bed every night.
The weekend was busy, starting off with a delicious cooked breakfast at Bills, a restaurant in White Lion Road, Islington with great hot chocolate for my chocoholic kids, amazing jams and preserves, and only a short walk from our flat. We met up with Marns to start on a few of the jobs for the wedding and let Mum and Dad start to explore Islington. We went to the florist, into the Gallipoli restaurant, where my parents are hosting a pre wedding dinner next week, into the town hall, which is the venue for the reception and then down to see Marns and James new home. It's beautiful, and has an amazing kitchen, which I would love to give a good work out!! While we were there, Jie Jie tried on her flower girl dress - oh my, she was just a gorgeous princess, especially when adorned with a tiara from the hens night! Didi was funny, because when he saw Jie Jie come down in her 'fancy' dress, he wanted to get dressed up too, and started pulling off his clothes, and was most upset that she was getting so much attention! We headed home after coffee and pastries, feeling a bit sluggish with jet lag. Not much time though to rest, as Mum, Dad, Marns and James were out to the theatre and dinner, and a friend of mine was coming to visit for dinner... she and her partner don't live in London, but came down especially for dinner with me... the kids were terrific, fell asleep on the lounge and left me to enjoy catching up. It wasn't a late night, as they had to be on the last train out of London! Sunday was pretty quiet, started off going to the church where the wedding will be held. It's a very pretty sandstone church, not very far from our flat. Later in the day, we wandered around and took the kids to a couple of playgrounds to run around!
What we weren't' prepared for though is how cold it is... this spring weather in London has not been very warm at all. I think it has been hovering around just under 10 degrees... wish I'd brought some warmer jumpers and overcoats for the kids!!
On Monday I packed the kids up and we set out to see the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace. We left just after the morning peak hour and headed to the bus stop to catch a double decker London bus, with some disappointment of not getting the front seat, we were at least comfortable on the top deck. The kids loved looking out and down on the passing cars, bikes and pedestrians. We got to Green Park, and bought a picnic lunch from a nearby Pret a Manger and then skipped down through Green Park towards the Palace. I could see a fair crowd collecting, all under the statue of Queen Victoria, and barricades were holding people back from the road, and a pretty thick crowd had collected around the fence of the palace. I asked a policemen if something unusual was going on, or if it was really just the audience for the Changing of the Guard - yep, just there to see the guards change! And his view was that the crowd was not that big... I was terrified I would be separated from the kids, or I would lose one! We couldn't get near the palace fence, but did manage to secure a bit of barricade facing the road and Queen Victoria. There were a number of mounted police for crowd control, and the kids were happy to watch them. We saw the marching band, the new guards and the mounted guards all parade along the street. Once they'd all entered the palace grounds, Jie Jie tried to squeeze her way into the front to have a look, and Didi sat on my shoulders, but I doubt he could see much! Jie Jie asked if she could take the camera in amongst the crowd, and she actually got a few good pics. I called out to her a few times when I couldn't see her to check if she was ok, and she'd call an answer back saying she was fine. Didi was quite devastated, because having been told we were going to see the Queen's house, he had actually been looking out for Lightning McQueen, and when we left he was dragging his feet and pouting looking around for his favourite racing car.
After the ceremony was over, we headed over to the playground in St James Park, but were distracted by a number of the cutest squirrels. We tried to have our picnic, but the kids wouldn't eat the sandwiches, only the chips and brownie. After a long play on the equipment and in the sand pit, Jie Jie had a hot chocolate and Didi had an ice cream and then we headed for home. We were about half way back through Green Park, when Didi wanted cuddles, and wouldn't walk any further.
One of the planned highlights of the trip was having tickets to see The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre. The kids didn't really know what to expect, except probably watching the movie in a theatre, and were suitably gobsmacked! The show started with Rafiki singing, and two antelopes singing from the top of the theatre, and then as all the animals in the circle of life paraded through the theatre to gather under Pride Rock, Didi jumped out of his seat (and onto my lap for the rest of the show) when one of the antelopes 'sniffed' at him. The costumes were phenomenal, the elephants, rhinos, zebras, elans, big cats, all so cleverly done. The set was amazing too! Each time Simba left the stage, Didi would say quite loudly "where Simba gone?". I'm a bit of an emotional wreck in live theatre, so was crying my eyes out at the start of the show, blown away by the magnificence. Grandma and Bob were also suitably impressed, and watching the delight on the kids faces was perfect. The kids were engaged and entranced for the first act, and wanted more when it finished, but got a bit restless during a long Simba solo during the second act, but were involved to enjoy the finale. Of course both wanted more when it was over, but it was a long show, and they actually did pretty well staying involved for that length of time. Knowing the story as well as they do definitely helped. Thanks Mum and Dad for such a special day out!!
The next day, I took the kids on an adventure to the Natural History Museum to see the dinosaurs. Last year when we were here they were closed for cleaning. Didi loved the big brontosaurus in the main hall, the one which has been in the museum's collection for about 150 years! We went into the dinosaur exhibit and the shadows cast some eerie light. It was packed, there were so many school excursions there, and keeping the kids together was tricky. Jie Jie was looking at everything closely and wanted me to read every bit of information to her (she takes after me a bit), but then Didi raced through and into the room with an animated T-rex. I was calling and calling him, but couldn't find him... until another mum pointed him out. Jie Jie and I caught up with him just as he was about to come face to face with the T-rex, and Jie Jie suddenly realised what she was going to come face to face with, and planted her feet down so firmly we couldn't move. I picked Didi up and then tried to reason with Jie Jie that we couldn't go back because it was a one-way path. She eventually clung onto one leg and kept her eyes tightly shut and we inched past the dinosaur. Then it roared. I thought she was going to rip through my jeans! We got almost to the exit, and then I knelt down, told her that it was a robotic dinosaur, and not real, ever. Even though the bones that we had looked at before had come from real dinosaurs. Then suddenly she was all brave. We had a look, it roared again, and then she was in denial about having been scared! Although today we only looked in one room, I knew it was time to head home. We left the museum, and had a quick look at an outdoor photo exhibit and then got the Tube home. Two changes. Didi was sound asleep by the second change, and I texted Dad to ask me to meet us at Angel with the stroller... I have never been so grateful to see that stroller as I was after I'd carried Didi as a dead weight on the train and up... knowing that Jie Jie wouldn't really be able to walk home, so being able to put them both in was a relief, especially as it continued to rain.
For the weekend, we headed up to the Cotswolds to visit and introduce Mum and Dad to their (other) daughter's new in laws. We hired a car, but the traffic getting out of London was awful, and it took us about 4 hours to drive up. A couple of wrong turns added about 45 mins to the trip, but we got there and were glad to be there. We stayed again in the 16th century house, which is exquisitely maintained and decorated. The kids again enjoyed playing with the permanently set up train set, and going to see the chickens and collect eggs. We visited Daylesford, a gorgeous organic food supply place. Would love for it to be my 'corner store'. We had a wander around Stow-on-the-Wold, an old market village, enjoying the small streets and pretty churchyards. Then back to London on Sunday, in half the time it took us to drive up on Friday!