A Travellerspoint blog


Pregnant Sister

Reporting from Düsseldorf

overcast 10 °C

Jie Jie and I went on a very quick weekend trip to London in November, to visit my sister who was expecting her first baby in December. We went to help her prepare!!

We left straight after school on Friday, and arrived in London at 6.30pm and were greeted at Gatwick by a tremendous crowd trying to get tickets for the trains into town. Fortunately my sister had sent me a fabulous birthday present of tickets for the Gatwick Express, so we just waltzed on by!! She met us at the station closest to her house, and it was a delight to see her in full bloom!! We got to her house around 8.30pm, but because England is an hour behind Germany, poor old Jie Jie was collapsing with each step, after a long day at school and now hungry and travel weary.

On Saturday we headed in to John Lewis. It was a delight for me to see all the Christmas decorations, properly done, after years in China. We looked at all the baby supplies, muslins, cot sheets, nappy change set ups, and bought several bags of necessities, and then headed out to a show! We went to see a puppet show called 'The Night before Christmas' - loosely themed around the traditional Christmas poem, but quite creatively done too. It was at the Little Theatre in Islington, apparently a long time puppet theatre.

The next day we had breakfast, packed up and headed back out to the airport, as our brief sojourn in London was over, and we were heading back home, to start another week at school!!

Posted by aboo10 12:11 Archived in England Tagged children london family_travel Comments (0)

The day after...

Reporting from Jinqiao

all seasons in one day 12 °C
View London Wedding on aboo10's travel map.

There's a bit of a feeling of relief the day after a big event. Everything went off smoothly, the rain didn't really upset the day, it was good to catch up with friends and family in such a convivial environment, the dresses were a success, the flower girls were too cute, and MARNIE AND JAMES GOT MARRIED!!

Also because Mike was only in London for 3 days we had arranged to meet some friends for lunch. So partly because I hadn't eaten enough over the last two weeks (lie lie lie) we decided to go to Jamie's Italian for lunch. It was great!! I do love the way Jamie puts his restaurants together!! We have now been to Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant in London, and Italian restaurants in Kingston, Cardiff and now Islington - loved them all!! We went with a friend of Mike's from Uni and one of his longest term friends ever, Diana, who did a reading at our own wedding, and spotted my Mum and Dad on the station at Kings Cross on her way to meet us! She said to them, 'are you Abby's parents?', and they were caught a little off guard as the point of this trip to London has been as 'Marnie's parents', and Diana hasn't seen them since our wedding years ago. Anyway, was lovely to catch up with them both, despite the pouring rain.

After lunch we headed back to pack up the flat and check in for our flight the following morning. After two weeks living there we had to check every nook and cranny carefully for hidden objects. Mike had rather cleverly brought over a suitcase within a suitcase, so my purchases from Sainsburys, Tesco and Marks & Spencer could all be packed to take home to Shanghai, and we wouldn't exceed our bag limit as we were all entitled to a piece of checked in luggage up to 23kg.

Then the rain stopped and the sun came out, as we headed up to the newlyweds house for a champagne and some more celebrations and to give them our wedding gift of two lamps made from Chinese porcelain candlesticks. (I think I might get us a pair too!) The extended family were all there, so was nice to catch up with my aunt, uncles, cousins and Grandma too. Also for Mike, who was still reeling from only arriving on Friday, and already preparing for the return journey!! There was much talk about how quickly the time has passed from arriving in London, to all the events scheduled occurring, to of course the actual big day, and now the end. It was all over.

Saying good bye to Grandma was sad, her flight back to Australia was the next day, and she and Tom left to pack their own stuff. We went back to the flat for another clean up, and to bath the kids, and then met up with the remaining family again for one last dinner. Ironically, we went to Magreb, the same place we had our farewell supper last August... maybe it will be a tradition...

Posted by aboo10 18:42 Archived in England Tagged london flight shopping goodbye family_travel Comments (0)

Wedding Bells

Reporting from Jinqiao

rain 10 °C
View London Wedding on aboo10's travel map.

OK this one is a photo essay:

We started the morning off by meeting at the hairdressers where our stylists were going to work wonders with our hair. I arrived and Mum was done, and Marnie was looking gorgeous. Kate was nearly done, and her hairdresser would be soon doing mine. I managed to whip in a super quick mini manicure as well at the beautician downstairs. And then of course Jie Jie wanted one too, so after her hair was done, she nipped down for a nail polish too, while Connie, the other flower girl had her hair done. We weren't having much luck with the weather, as once we were done and looking for a cab it started to rain, and I was convinced my hair would fall.

We got back to Marnie's house and had a little snack, and then the flowers arrived:

Then we got dressed and helped Marnie with her gown.

We started posing for photos. Marnie and the flower girls.

Marnie and her parents.

Then the wedding car arrived. It was a white London taxi, and it started shuttling us down to the church. The flower girls and I were in the first trip. We got to the church and went inside looking for familiar faces. Jie Jie found her brother.

Then we found Grandma.

Didi didn't like his buttonhole flower very much.

And then once everyone got there, the ceremony started. Because I was walking down the aisle too, I actually don't have any photos of that bit! And where Mike was sitting wasn't a clear enough line. Needless to say, the flower girls did a lovely and quite thorough job of dropping rose petals down the aisle. Jie Jie even went back to straighten out a few. Marnie looked radiant, James looked happy.

After the signing was all done, the family and bridal party posed for a group photo.

After a few more professional photos and some chatting in the church, we headed up to the Islington Town Hall for the reception. Here they are cutting the cake:

It was a lovely night, everyone looked beautiful, and I wish Marnie and James every happiness in their married life together. Much love and congratulations!!!

Posted by aboo10 18:34 Archived in England Tagged churches children london wedding family_travel Comments (0)

Build up to the wedding

Reporting from Jinqiao

rain 8 °C
View London Wedding on aboo10's travel map.

This has been sitting in draft form for 2 months now, so decided to give myself a little kick and get it published before we head off on summer holidays!!!!

So with 5 days to go to the main event, and a bit of London life to enjoy, we didn't really sit still although London didn't bless us with great tourist weather, that is it rained and rained and rained.

Monday -
My 90 year old Grandma had arrived in London with her youngest son, Tom as chaperone, after a mammoth trip from Batemans Bay, avoiding a landslide between home and Canberra, and then three flights to get to London. The kids and I went to visit on Monday morning, to see how a 90 year old travels in style! The kids had a great time playing in her hotel room, and were happy recipients of a collection of goodies brought to entertain them... it's not often she gets to see these great-grandkids! Mum and Dad arrived soon after to say hello, and then Jie Jie, Mum and I headed back to Islington, leaving Didi in Dad's capable hands, for Marnie's wedding dress fitting and bridesmaid catch up. By this stage, all had arrived in London and it was the first time since the day where we successfully purchased our bridesmaid dresses in Melbourne in January that we had seen each other again! Marnie's dress was gorgeous... then to celebrate (why not?) we went to lunch in Islington Green, then headed up to Marnie's to check if our dresses still fit... and to be honest, I was a bit nervous!!

Tuesday -
Marnie was running doing a stack of jobs and organisation, so Mum, Dad, the kids and I decided to venture out to the National Gallery, to see Titian's Flight to Egypt, which was a special exhibition just opened. This picture is usually displayed at the Hermitage in Russia, and was the first time in about 150 years that it was outside Russia, so quite exciting to see. The exhibition was quite small, but I was a bit upset by the kids behaviour... it wasn't good. The gallery is stunning.


We headed home, and then over for dinner at Marnie's house with Grandma and Tom too. Marnie and James entertained and fed us all very well with a delicious lasagne, which is apparently one of James' specialties!

Wednesday -
Mum was hosting an elegant "kitchen tea" for Marnie at none other than The Savoy Hotel on the Strand in the Thames Foyer. Dad was lined up to babysit... and Mum and I headed out in all our finery to The Strand.


I think there were about 12 of us, including a number of her school friends from Melbourne, my aunty, my cousin and of course my Grandma, and afternoon tea was exquisite. My favourite were the salmon sandwiches, but also the egg sandwiches and the scones. And the little cakes, and the champagne! We were out a bit too long really, as Dad had reached the end of his tether with the kids inside the little flat because of the rain. But it was a lovely afternoon, and was so lucky to be able to have Afternoon Tea at the Savoy!


Thursday -
After Dad's sterling effort looking after the kids, I decided to get them out of sight for the day and took them to the Transport Museum in Covent Garden. We braved the London buses without a pram, and despite the rain the three of us had a fabulous time. The Transport Museum though was overrun with children on school excursions and it was hard going letting my kids have their turn, as the children there were quite pushy, and I suppose confident because of being with all their friends, but the teachers sure didn't do anything about keeping the students in line! Didi loved a small train which ran the length of the the second floor, and would probably have spent the whole time just following it up and down! Jie Jie loved climbing on the model buses and trains and pretending to drive! I liked a display projected onto the floor of Tube advertisements, maps and stations.


That evening we went to St James Church in Islington for a wedding 'rehearsal', where we met the minister and he instructed the bridesmaids, flower girl, father of the bride and bride how to walk down the aisle. And making it clear to the groom that he was not to watch his gorgeous bride come down the aisle - would miss out, because it was such a pretty church, framing Marnie in all her finery. Mum and Dad then hosted a dinner at Gallipoli, a Turkish restaurant not far away, to give most of the bridal party, and those who had travelled some distance a chance to meet up before Saturday.

Friday -
Super excitement this morning, the kids and I were on an early bus into town to meet Grandma, Tom and my cousin Vanessa at their hotel to join them on a flight on the London Eye. Tom had booked tickets for one of the first flights, but after standing the queue for a little while for some reason the Eye had not yet started operating for the day, and was experiencing technical issues. Of course the staff were assuring us that it wouldn't be too much longer, but bearing in mind we had our 90 year old Grandma with us, standing for half an hour is quite a job. So of course, we thought we'd go and have a sit down, again with the assurance that we could jump back into the queue once it was operating again. And yep, as soon as we were out of the queue, the Eye started moving! Nevermind, off we went for a coffee and then rejoined the queue refreshed and ready to stand again. True to their word, they let us in through the VIP entrance (accompanying a 90year old woman, is a big plus!!) and soon we were in our pod. And just after we started off and up, it started to rain, or pour!!


The trip was still fabulous, and Jie Jie loved pointing out Big Ben and looking at all the bridges. Thanks Uncle Tom for taking us all on board!!


We headed home again, and it was a long trip as Didi fell asleep, Jie Jie wanted to fall asleep, and I didn't have the pram with me... we managed to get on a bus back to Islington, Jie Jie managed to buy some chocolates for the trip beforehand, while I held a sleeping boy, and we made it back to Islington, carrying him all the way. Of course he woke up as soon as we reached our purple door in Cruden Street. It was very empty in our little flat as Mum and Dad had checked out to make room for the arrival of Daddy!!

We knew that Daddy was on his way for his whirlwind trip to London. We knew how bad checking through Terminal 5 was. We were eagerly waiting for Daddy to get to Islington, and when Mum and Dad dropped by again later, we all headed down to see if we could find him, knowing he was making his way to the Angel Tube station. The delight on the kids faces when they spotted him dragging his case was fabulous, and we were together once again as a family. To complete Daddy's whistlestop trip to London, we had arranged for his parents to come down to London to see the kids and him. We met them at Angel Station too, and then went to Bills (again) for dinner. So lovely to see them again!! Kids so excited to see Daddy though that they had to sit next to him!!


Posted by aboo10 18:04 Archived in England Tagged london wedding family_travel Comments (0)

Pre-wedding week-week

Reporting from London

rain 9 °C
View London Wedding on aboo10's travel map.

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!

Posted by aboo10 03:42 Archived in England Tagged planes london wedding family_travel jet_lag Comments (0)

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