Our last day in London…our plane leaves for home tomorrow morning. We went to church this morning (Central London SDA again) and then spent the afternoon and evening in a lengthy (and frequently interrupted) stroll through the parklands of Central London. We began at Kensington Gardens, quite near our hotel, and progressed through Hyde Park (familiar territory now!) down through Green Park, finally ending up at Buckingham Palace.
First, just for Sherry — a picture of Kensington Gardens, as requested. It would look exactly like a postcard if I hadn’t stuck my two silly children in front of the gate before snapping the picture.
Besides the beautiful gardens, Kensington Palace/Gardens boasts the most impressive playground of all the great playgrounds we’ve seen in London — its central focus is a huge, almost life-sized pirate ship with rope ladders all over so kids can climb the rigging, walk the plank, etc. That’s actually where we spent most of the afternoon.
When we finally tore the kids away from the playground, we had high tea in the Orangery, which was incredibly posh and civilized. I had a bowl of tomato and basil soup that made me think of my mother and what we call her “endless quest for the perfect bowl of soup.” This would have come close, I think. Also had a scone with the obligatory jam and clotted cream. Delicious.
After tea we continued walking on through the parks. We walked down Kensington Gardens’ lovely “Flower Walk,” although for our purposes it might have more accurately been named the “Squirrel Walk.” There were more squirrels scampering across the paths than I’d ever seen before, and the children were absolutely fascinated with them, running ahead whenever we shouted, “Look! Another squirrel!” This had the effect of keeping them racing along when they would normally have been dragging their feet and asking, “How much farther?” Yes, historical buildings, beautiful gardens, lofty monuments will tire with time, but we can never get enough of those cute, personable, disease-riddled vermin.
We did eventually make it to Buckingham Palace. By that time the kids had run out of squirrels and Christopher finally was complaining that he was tired and wanted a rest. I said we could rest on the steps of the monument outside the Palace. He whined for half a block and as soon as we got there, both kids filled me with pride and terror by joining the hordes of children climbing and scrambling all over the statuary. I said to Chris, “Weren’t you just dying to sit down and rest a minute ago?” Quite honestly he replied, “But Mom, I’m not tired when there’s anything interesting to do!!”
We were all out of room on our camera’s memory stick before we got to the Palace, so instead I present a few pics of the kids climbing on totem poles at the playground earlier today:
I said earlier that travel is a learning experience, so I thought I’d finish the London portion of the blog with a few reflections on what I’ve learned in the past two weeks:
England is a hot, hot, hot country. Virtually tropical. I don’t care what any English people out there have to say about what it’s like “normally” … you’ll never convince me of anything differen.
England is a very expensive country. I don’t know any place more expensive to travel. The prices for food and accommodation look perfectly reasonable till you realize they’re in pounds not dollars. Once you multiply by two and discover what you’re actually paying, you go a little crazy. The only cure is to put it out of your mind and not think about it till you return home and see what shape your bank balance is in.
Allow children to enjoy tourism on their own terms. So they spend their time at the Maritime Museum pretending to be spies examining the exhibits, and learn nothing about British naval history? All they remember of Kensington Gardens is that it’s the place with the squirrels? No problem! Being the control freak I am (and married to another!) I sometimes have to remember to set aside my agenda and let the kids take things in their own stride, but I’m learning!
My children have literally inexhaustible energy. I’d always thought this was the case but it’s finally been tested. It doesn’t matter how many miles of walking, how many trains or subways you drag them through in hot weather; at the first opportunity they will immediately run, climb, yell or play — regardless of how fatigued they should be, or appeared to be a moment ago. They will eventually sleep, but when this happens they drop as if shot — they do not pass through any intermediate stage known as “tired” or even “relaxed.”
My children are fantastic travellers. I’ve bragged about this before but I’m still amazed at how positive, cheerful and resilient they are, even when we encounter inconvenience and changes of plan. Lest anyone think I’m being idealistic, I’m not complaining they are perfectly behaved all the time. There’s plenty of squibbling, backtalk, and LOUDNESS. I can’t count how many times Jason or I have given the following speech: “Please lower your voice. There are many other people in this hotel/train/playground/city who have not paid to hear you sing/shreik/recite.” (I will also say that we have gotten a few compliments in public places on our “well-behaved children,” so it’s not all bad.) In spite of it all there has never been a day or even a moment when I’ve been sorry we brought them or felt than any of us was not having a good time. I would gladly take them on the Grand Tour of Europe should time and money permit.
I would love to be even 10% as outgoing as my children are. At every playground they have made instant friends, learned other children’s names, been instantly comfortable. I don’t know where they got it but certainly not from Jason and me, as we’ve both quite shy around people we don’t know. One of my favourite scenes was seeing Christopher and another boy his age climbing on top of a statue today, both enthusiastically making armpit music — a skill Chris has taught to children from all over Europe by now.
Our entire family can spend two weeks together, 24/7, sleeping in a single room … and still all be speaking to each other by the end of it! This amazes me. See above disclaimer about children’s behavior — it’s not that we haven’t had moments of tension and frustration, but in general we have all gotten along famously. At least, we haven’t killed and eaten each other, not even on the houseboat.
My husband and I are the Best. Team. Ever. And now I know why. I’ve always known Jason and I were great partners but this trip has allowed me to analyze the strength of the partnership, and it is this: neither of us hesitates to take leadership in an area where we feel confident, and neither of us doubts or questions the other when the other is in the “leader” role. Jason would no more question my judgement about which subway to take or what time our train comes, then I would consider questioning a decision he made about how to steer the canalboat. Again, it’s not that we travel without any tension whatsoever, but I do think we have ironed out a lot of the major wrinkles that cause trouble for travelling couples, and I think this simple agreement — each one take charge when necessary, and don’t argue with the person in charge — has saved us a lot of hassle.
There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home! England is a great tourist destination; we’ve had a wonderful time here … but tomorrow night we’ll be sleeping our own beds and nothing beats that!!