Week One - London 6.19-25th 06/29/2010
Day One – 6.19
Greetings – thoughts tend to come in and out like waves. From time to time I will do my best to jot a few of them down and use them to try and explain the random moments we experience as we travel. I’ll also try to put the days in context to give you all a sense of ebb and flow – enjoy…
To begin here are a few of our accomplishments over the past few months (much of it done by Teri - under pressure, with grace and style) and a lesson or two we learned leading up to this day.
The biggest one is that you make decisions when you must and not before, in retrospect don’t waste any time thinking that you can get everything lined up months in advance. Don’t loose the sleep. You won’t do it and you are far better of using the time for something more productive. Plan a bit for things that are mission critical but otherwise live in the moment.
Big stuff – her peers voted Adele happiest kid in class, and Vincent’s goodbye hugs from each class member brought on tears from Vinny, his classmates, teachers and parents alike. We are blessed that their friends dearly love both of our kids. How great is that?
As a family we enjoyed an endless amount of support from a wide range of friends and family confirming that we are part of something bigger, something that really matters. While leaving LA was difficult it was also inspiring in a way. I guess its true that you never really understand what you have until you don’t have it any more. For us, the stuff we’re leaving behind that we will miss the most is the day to day. Not the things but the stuff, and not all stuff but really the everyday and the ordinary – the phone calls, lunch, errands, school, the gym, a drop by, parties, play dates, its that kind of stuff – the stuff with friends and family.
Other things – we sold two cars, rented our mammoth house, packed two house, filled a storage unit, automated all bills and correspondence, started two businesses, visited all family and friends, wrapped up both school years, set up the Nelson school, found the place to live there, booked cooking school in Italy, got the HOW, found hotels in London and an apartment in Paris, burned through severance, qualified for unemployment, secure summer renters for Malibu, listed the house on VBRO and Home Away, and on and on and on… My head still hurts thinking about it.
With all that water under the bridge its time to go, TODAY IS OUR DAY!
Pre-flight – Whew, after an intense few hours of last minute packing and attention to detail we are off. Denise comes over to see us off and the Taubs drive us over to LAX. The Powells come by and pick up Jessie the Dog. Jessie knows something is up but she really loves the Powells and seems very happy to jump in the van and drive off. It is hard to leave her. Actually, it’s hard to leave everyone…
For those of you in the know on our packing strategy it fell apart at check in. We are supposed to have one carry one bag each. That equals two big bags and one small backpack per kid. All in - four bags and one small bag with entertainment for the plane. We did manage to have two big bags, but it broke down with the carry ones, we have a “bazillion” of them. They seem to be breeding on the luggage cart. As we walk we leave a trail of carry one bags behind. One of the bags is actually a bag for other bags! This will need some work.
In-flight – As we board I hear the announcer say, “flight NZ2 to Iran is now boarding” Iran? Did she say Iran? Let me get this straight, we are on an Air New Zealand flight from LAX stopping by London en route to Tehran? Are you kidding me? Good thing the parents don’t know, some things are better left unsaid.
The flight is great though we get almost no sleep. It’s 10 hours in coach and we have our own row so it’s not so bad. I have to say, the kids are really great. No complaints and we have fun fooling around and playing games. When we touch down in Heathrow its about 10a. Before we know it, our days blend together into one, and we are through customs and headed to the Sheraton Knightsbridge.
Day Two sort of - 6.20
Touch Down – our brand spank’ in new passports look much better with the first entry stamp. After months of worrying about not having a forward ticket I was relieved to find that they did not even ask about our plans. All that nervous energy down the drain, a good lesson in maintaining focus on things you can control and letting go of those you can’t.
We have logged in checkpoint number 1: England. The bags arrive but are difficult to find in the clutter of Heathrow and the haze of jet lag. Eventually we locate the stroller, change some money into GBP (at a ridicules exchange rate mind you) and load into a cab. The cabs here are very cool. They are all black with seats looking both forward and backward. I get the pull down seat and have the pleasure of looking backwards the entire drive into the city, not all that fun if you have a history of motion sickness.
They all drive on the wrong side of the road here. Oh sure, some may say its just the “other” side but I stand behind my “wrong” side call. The rest of the world drives on our side, why do the English insist on being different? I may start a campaign to fix it. We have Adele running down why they drive this way and reporting back to the family. I can’t imagine the reason will have any merit.
I feel like London is one big green leaf with buildings on it. I am talking really, really old buildings. The place could be listed as a park instead of a city, and it is wonderful. The impact of the greenery is immediate. You feel calmer coming into a city like London than you do, say, New York. The age and architecture here give you a sense of permanence. Like you are joining some kind of living history. Attaching yourself to times progression in a way. Man-o-man, the jet lag can make life interesting if you let…
After a quick walk to check out Hyde Park we get back into a cab and head over to Teri’s high school friends for a visit. Life in London is a world away from Malibu. The row house we are in was built in the late 1800s and it is more “vertical” living than we are accustom to. There are steep staircases and three or four floors. It has that Brooklyn brownstone feel about it. We have a great time catching up and looking forward.
All of us are starting to feel the crush of jet lag so our visit lasts only a few hours, wish we had more time and energy. Around 8p we decide to head home to the hotel for much needed sleep.
Day Three – 6.21
Good morning, it’s 11:30a, time to wake up! Adele has slept for 16 hours. The rest of us for 12 or so and we all feel much better for it. Since it’s lunchtime, breakfast is hard to come by but we do manage to get a bit across the street. Everyone is still tired and tense. When does the fun start?
Immediately! We’re off to the Wellington arch to snap a photo for Teri’s bother that lives in Wellington Kansas. Goofy tourists, posing in front of a statue of some general from the olden days and racing hot wheels into pigeons. Ah, so good to be on holiday.
Like any good adventure its best to start off with a bang to gear everyone up for more. This is like a hit parade: Buckingham palace (I explain to Adele that the flag is up which means the queen is in. She looks at me like I have two heads. I realize I need to provide a little filler like who is the queen, why does she live in a palace and how come the guards have big fluffy hats), St. James Park (the playground and ice cream come at the prefect time for Vince), Westminster Abbey (dark, kind of creepy, lots of famous dead people, a who’s who of history under foot), the London Eye (I thought it was the London O for some reason and ask a few people where the O is, ha, ha, ha dad is so funny! Anyway, its not the O its the I, then I find out its not the I its the Eye – can’t they just call it the wheel?). All of these sights live up to expectation and we highly recommend them to ease the family into sight seeing. Nothing like really old stuff and a fancy Ferris wheel to kick of the festivities.
As a family we are prone to adventure so we take the Tube back to the hotel. The kids love the train. We could have told them we came to London to take the subway and Vince would have been happy as a clam. It is clean, feels safe and the cars are comfortable, though shorter and rounder than subways back home. Tall people must have issues with the ceiling height. Luckily we fit right in, no height issues here!
After Chinese take-out in the hotel room we try and go to sleep. Easier said than done. Vinny is wound up and Adele’s mind is spinning from the day. By 11p we manage to calm down and start to fade.
Day Four – 6.22
Wake up it’s 10:30a! We need to get an alarm clock. How cool is it that you can draw the curtains and look out the window to see “all the kings horses and all the kings men” riding in the park? It’s a great way to start the day. They are in full uniform, trotting up and down the path in a cloud of dust.
Today we take the tube to St. Paul’s cathedral to climb the steps to the top. Adele and I head up 528 steps (over 1000 total vertical steps). It is phenomenal! The steps get smaller as we go higher. At our first rest stop in the whispering dome hear a choir singing in the narthex below and the sound bounces and dances around the rafters. If you get to London make the trip and climb the stairs, you will be impressed.
To address our “bazillion carry on bag” issue we decide to buy a North Face rolling bag and condense several smaller bags into the new one. We shall see.
With the day starting to kick in we head across the Themes to the Tate Modern. It’s a big old gaggle of modern artists all under one roof: very impressive. Also near impossible to take in when you are worried that Vinny’s toy skateboard may go flying through a canvas at any given moment. Best for us to step outside before we do major damage and make the front page of the London Times.
Vince and I do what every guy really wants to do when faced with an hour of modern art, we go play “jump for the stick” on gravestones in the courtyard of St. Pauls. Life doesn’t get much better. I have to hand it to the Montessori. Vince comes over to me, very concerned and says, “Dad, dad, that man is steaming, tell him to stop steaming it is very bad for him!” (Said just loud enough for the man’s wife to hear him, she pokes her husband) I try and explain that people are allowed to choose to steam if they want to which he replies “but dad, dad, it is bad for your body!” All that tuition money just came back in spades. On the way out he stops and tells the old guy to “stop steaming.” The guy is ancient and looks totally confused as to why a little blond kid is yelling at him about steaming, but I have to hand it to Vince, he sticks to his convictions.
I have an idea. Lets take two jet lagged parents, a couple of cranky kids, the stroller and our new rolling duffel on the tube during rush hour. Now that’s fun in the making. And we can add some more spice by having Teri step in vomit in her flip-flops and me roll the new duffle wheels right behind her. And then to add even more drama lets all mope, pout and whine the whole time. That’s a great idea!
By the time we get to Harrods for dinner, Vince is out like a light in the stroller and the rest of us are barely hanging on. The food is really good. Pizza and pasta always helps. On the way back to our hotel we are feeling so good that we “pop in” to the Mandarin Oriental across the street to see how the other half-lives. It is a funny scene. There we are in the tiny lobby, looking a bit ragged from the day, telling them we “love the Mandarin” and how we stay “at your hotel in New York when we are there” and “how much we enjoy there lobby bars”. The guy keeps looking at my flip-flops and frowning. It is probably best for everyone when we gracefully exit explaining, “sorry we can’t stay, we must come back some other time”. The guy was still looking at my flip-flops as we walked out the door.
Teri and the kids struggle to fall asleep. I feel waves of dizziness and fatigue for awhile the end up falling asleep from 9p to midnight, then get back up for four hours then go back down again for a few more – I am still in the “can’t let go” mode, still worried about checking emails and paying bills. In the wee hours I realize I need to set up the four-hour workweek parameters and let this life begin…
Day Five – 6.23
Good morning, it is 9:30a, time to get up and go to Wimbledon! Really?
To stay out of the crowds avoid the queen at all costs. And try and go when England is playing in the World Cup, it improves the odds of getting in dramatically. Remember, 90% of everything is showing up, the other 10% is remembering that cash is king. The kids are rocking. We take trains and a double decker bus to get there. It is great fun, very pleasant and a bit crowded (understatement, it’s wall to wall people, absolutely jammed).
Can you believe they only take cash at the gate? And that we did not get any last night? And that I have to stand on the ATM line, with and escort, for the only cash machine on the grounds for over half an hour just to get the money to buy the tickets? And that the lady at the counter asked us if we wanted Court Two seats instead? And that when we said of course she founds us four singles? And that Vince and Adele are clearly too young to sit by alone, though we did consider the option? And that we got in? To Wimbledon? In London? Unbelievable!
This was a great day. Adele and I found seats at Court Five to watch some really blond long legs from some Nordic country playing some really short but really fast legs from somewhere else. Adele loved it. So did I. Overall it was all new and exciting, hot and crowded, close up, very fast, powerful and dramatic. TV doesn’t do it justice.
From there we head straight over to Princess Diana’s Garden in Hyde Park to meet up with our neighbors who happen to be here as well. The play area really is spectacular with lots of things for all ages.
When I find the kids on the top deck of Peter Pans boat and explain to them that Peter Pan is from London, Adele stops to think for a minute then asks, “Really?” It is one of those moments, when you look into the eyes of your child and remember just how young and innocent they really are. I take one of those sharp breaths to hold of the emotion and tell her, “Maybe”. She rolls her eyes and is gone…
Vincent on the other hand climbs to the top of the mast, shouting, “ I am Vincent!” with each rung on the rope ladder. He eventually stands in the crow’s nest, quite high up for an almost four year old, and yells “look at me, look at me” with such joy that is startles you. Princess Diana must be smiling.
Over dinner at Harrods (again) Adele asks how I knew about the queen’s flag and I explain to her that I learned about the queens flag from my parents when I traveled with them when I was about her age realizing, as I explain it to her, that I have come full circle. I mean in life that is. The question/answer marks a mid-point: it tips the balance between taking and giving. All over pizza and pasta in Harrods. I like this trip already.
Day Six – 6.24
We wake up early for the rest day. Yes, there is some irony here. We will try and set aside every forth of fifth day as a day to hang out and do as little sight seeing as possible. It suits us well.
Hyde Park is s wonder. I wish everyone the opportunity to hang out for a day with family. We rent paddle boats, play in Princess Diana’s water park, find a public pool for the kids, eat a picnic lunch, rest, read, wander, have dinner lake side and then go home to Skype friends, watch a movie and get our first good night sleep. Success.
A few observations thus far:
Adele and Vinny are already closer, playing together and watching out for each other more so than usual. Vincent talks to anyone announcing, “My name is Vincent!” followed by, “and this is my sister Adele.”
We hold hands more. Back home you don’t really have an opportunity to hold hands because we don’t really walk around much. Here we do. And it’s nice.
The local playgrounds are not all that friendly here. Both Adele and Vince get push back from the British kids and our kids notice it. It might just be the area we are in but it leaves a poor impression of English youth. I hope the experience of being on the receiving end will help them be more open to accepting in others down the road.
A lot of people smoke. Vince is trying hard to understand why. At first he asked all the time, “dad, dad, don’t they know steaming is bad, it will make them sick?” Then he just asked one or twice a day and then after a few days he stopped asking altogether. We discuss not going down any not so good streets.
The more bags you have, the more you will take. As we re-pack our bags and try to condense down to less we actually gain a bag. Eventually we will get will get there out of necessity.
It is time to unleash. I turned the blackberry over to Teri.
See you in Paris…