Saturday, November 5, 2016

London 2016






October 28-31, 2016:

Our trip to London began on Friday afternoon. I had our suitcase packed a few days before, along with snacks and toys for the kids; all I really had to do was gather our toiletries and electronic device chargers. Alex didn't take the day off work, so he was gone until late afternoon. Buster got dropped off at the kennel around 3pm. I was really hesitant to use the pet lodge, only because this was the first time in the 6 years we've had him that we've had to board him. Typically, we ask family to babysit and when we went to DL Paris a coworker watched him for us. The mom in me felt terrible about having to leave him with strangers, but in the end it worked out fine. The lodge posted a video of him over the weekend running around and playing with several other mutts, so he obviously wasn't hurting too much. (Although he didn't eat the entire time we were gone which upset his stomach. So, that was not so fun. Gotta work on that in the future.)

Shortly after Alex got home from work, we loaded up the kids and started the tedious part of any vacation:



Because Alex and I had won this trip unexpectedly, we were trying to keep costs at a minimum. That meant we were using the bus transportation that was provided with the package.
Crazy, right?
The group was leaving at 10pm from one of the nearby bases, so Alex and I headed to that area to grab some dinner. We hit a snafu with my ID card that left the two us a little frazzled and irritated and set us behind schedule.
It all ended up working out, though, and the four of us were on board our double decker charter bus by 9:45pm. The bus itself was very nice. Clean, roomy, and the organizers had assigned us the back row so we had plenty of space for backpacks and jackets and carriers.

The only downside to our seats were that we were behind the 4 guys (out of the 73 on the trip) that wanted to start partying early.

The kids fell asleep no problem despite their rowdiness, but I wasn't so fortunate. From 10 to 1:30am, I got to hear all the revelry and commotion. It gave me plenty of time to dub them:

THE BARTENDER:
This guy had the Mary Poppins bag of coolers. It was the tiniest little thing, but he just kept pulling drinks out of it. Beers of all varieties and origins, Fireball, ginger ale, ice for all. It was crazy. He was a nice enough fellow. He offered me some spirits no less than 10 times over the weekend. All someone had to do was ask and out came a boozy beverage for their delight.


SNORY:
This guy was the quieter of the four, but oh my gosh when he fell asleep he had the loudest most obnoxious drunk snore I'd ever heard. And since he was in the seat directly in front of me, my ears was assaulted in the worst way.


AFGHANISTAN:
This guy.
He was in Afghanistan.
He was engaged.
But he had also been in Afghanistan.
Any story someone had, he could one up it.
And he'd been in Afghanistan.
For 18 months.
I kid you not, every single thing this guy said was brought around to his stint overseas.
I don't think I could have rolled my eyes hard enough every time this fellow opened his mouth. By far the most obnoxious of the four.
I joked with Alex (when he woke up because he had no issue dozing throughout their chatter) that if I could have created a drinking game consisting of taking a shot every time that guy mentioned Afghanistan and I would have been more hammered then all of them put together.
Yeesh.

And then there was 6 MONTHS:
When they all thought I was sleeping, they started talking about how crazy it was to bring kids to football games (because they just assumed Evie was attending) and this dude made the comment:
"Man, when I have a kid, I don't think they should leave the house for the first 6 months. They shouldn't go to restaurants, to malls, aanywhere."

I kid you not, that is what he said.
I wish I could tell you what other gems that brain produced, but when I heard that comment I HAD to speak up, and of course they were all mortified that they'd been caught talking about us and quickly changed the subject.



Those fellows certainly made the bus ride memorable.
Throughout the entire trip there and back they were rowdier than my kids.

Eventually, though, they did pass out and from about 1:30 to 4:30am everyone slept.

We got to the ferry port in Calais a little before 5 o'clock, and it took FOREVER to get through the security checkpoint. The refugee camp that had been set up right outside the fence had been disbanded earlier in the week and so the patrols were being extra thorough.
It took us close to an hour and a half to get through security and to get off the bus and go through customs. The four of us got our first stamps in our passports, though! That was exciting. At least, for me it was.

We boarded the ferry at 7am, where we were allowed to get out of our vehicles and stretch our legs for a bit. The boat had some restaurants and an awesome play area for the kids. Landon had an absolute blast running around and sliding on the structures. For awhile, there were about 3 French children in there with him, and it was so entertaining listening to them all talk to each other in a blend of French, English, and German.
Landon was actually repeating the French phrases they were saying and trying to say short comments in German.
I loved it.
They don't know it yet, but my kids are going to be better people because of this experience.
(The living in Germany bit, not the visiting London part, although that will be good, as well.)


The ferry arrived in Dover around 8am (we jumped back an hour so it was really 9a.m.) and fortunately everybody took a good long nap on the 2 hour drive into London.

On the outskirts of the city, just as everyone was getting excited, our bus got into a minor traffic accident.
Good grief.
From what we could tell, someone cut us off and our side mirror got hit. We had to sit in traffic for half an hour while insurance got swapped and the police arrived.

Not the best start to the day.


Once everything was sorted out, the bus dropped anyone who wanted to get off in a parking garage with instructions to meet back up at the hotel at 2pm to get our luggage and football tickets.

So, Alex and I had about 3.5 hours to kill.

Sweet.

The first order of business was to go outside and steal a quick peek at the historical sight we were near:


Not going to lie, it was really hard to be that close to the Tower of London and not go inside. That was Number 1 on my Must See list for London.
However, at around 25 pounds a ticket, I knew we weren't going to have enough time to explore everything before we would need to leave. It would not have been worth our money.

Instead, Alex and I strapped the children in their respective carriers and headed to the first tube station we could find. We bought Oyster Cards for each of us. They were 5 pounds apiece and we loaded 15 pounds on each card. It came out to about 48 dollars after the conversion.

We stopped and grabbed a quick lunch and then navigated our way to a park so the kids could burn off some energy. They had done so well on the bus that we wanted to give them a chance to play and have some fun.



I had read that Kensington Gardens had a fantastic Peter Pan themed playground, and since the gardens were adjacent to the one and only Hyde Park, I figured that was the perfect place to go.

It was a beautiful day out. Not hot, but not freezing either. That also meant places were busier. The playground (which was actually fenced in and required you to have a kid to gain access) was packed, practically every bench and open space of grass was occupied. I got a little stressed out at that point, because I didn't realize how sprawling the playground would be. It wasn't just one set of structures; there were pathways and picnic areas and trees separating areas.  You really had to keep an eye on your kid less you lose them.
I guess that would be the reasoning for the fence....

Landon seemed to have a blast going down slides and banging on the noise makers. It would have been fantastic if we had brought a picnic and been able to spend the whole afternoon letting the two kids explore every nook and cranny. However, by the time we actually found the playground, they only had 30 minutes before we had to leave and go to the hotel.

The trip had us staying at the Hotel Ibis at Earl's Court. The location wasn't perfect for us, because it was more in the West part of the city where everything we wanted to do was in the center. BUT! It was 2 blocks from the West Brompton tube station and that alone was incredibly convenient.
Overall, the hotel was clean and the staff friendly. The rooms definitely showed their age, there was cracks in the bathroom, pieces of the carpet ripped out, and faded room numbers, but as I said, it was clean which was most important. The hotel really did try their hardest to work with what they had.
The biggest issue we encountered was that the room the trip organizers reserved had us in a room with a double bed and a twin bed. So, I ended up sharing the double with Evie and Landon while Alex bunked in the twin. It wasn't a problem since the kids are still small, but there's not way that room would have worked had the kids been school age.

The breakfast the hotel served was really great. A ton of options, both of the hot and cold variety, and the coffee they served was actually manageable. (It's near impossible for me to like hotel coffee. Disney World, you have spoiled me!)


My family were good boys and girls and got to the hotel right at 2 o'clock on the dot. No waiting on us to arrive. We were right where we were supposed to be.

The bus was not, though.

Apparently, they got stuck in terrible city traffic and ended up getting there at 4:30 in the afternoon.

To say we - and the other trip goers who were waiting - were irritated was an understatement.
Because rather than call the hotel or contact anyone to let us know, we had to track their numbers down and figure out what the issue was ourselves.

And for 2.5 hours the poor kids had to stand around and wait. Alex and I felt so bad for them. Had we known they weren't going to be on time, we could have kept the kids at the park and let them have a grand old time.

Oh well. That was, by far, the lowest point of the vacation. Probably because it was completely out of our control and probably because we were exhausted. Sleeping on a bus does not afford one great rest, so we were more than ready for a bed.

Also, the biggest thing for me was that I was stretched thin by that afternoon. I love, love, love the city and being in crowds but I also NEED my personal time. I feel so drained when I don't get any privacy, almost to the point where I feel suffocated. After the bus ride, the ferry trip, and the bustling park, I needed five minutes in our room to breathe and get my batteries back to full.
I wish I wasn't wired that way. I don't enjoy needing quiet time, but it's the way I am. At least I'm old enough and wise enough to recognize my weakness and understand what I need to do to fix the problem.


Originally, Alex and I were planning on taking Landon back out for some evening fun, but because it was nearing 5 o'clock our plans were kind out of out the window by that point. Instead, around dinnertime, we walked to the tube and rode it one stop to Fulham Station. That emptied us out into a small indoor mall where we ate dinner at a Nando's.
The chicken we got was delicious, and I loved that there was a wide variety of sides to choose from.

With dinner completed, we stopped by a grocery store that was located in the mall and got ourselves some water and dessert.

I found some more Belgian chocolate, which I couldn't resist. That's quickly becoming my favorite treat. Ever.


Despite having to ride the tube, walk to and from our hotel, eating, and buying some essentials, the four of us were back in our room by 7:30, an hour and a half after we left. So quick and easy. I loved, loved, loved the convienence of it all.


Alex and I were so tired, though, that we both fell asleep putting the kids to bed at 8:00 pm.

Which meant the chocolate didn't even get eaten.

Shameful.


Daylight savings time occurred in the middle of the night, so between going to bed so early and gaining an extra hour of time, my family actually woke up at 4:45 the following morning.

But, the most important thing was we all felt well rested and were fully energized, especially after a good breakfast downstairs.
Some play time for the kids in the room with their toys, and we were all ready to explore London by 8am Sunday morning.


To be continued...!

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