Monday, February 18, 2013

Third Time is the Charm... London - Finally!!

After two failed attempts to go to London, we are FINALLY going!!  Yes, finally.  Amazing that we have lived in Europe for 3 years now and have not yet made it to one of the most famous cities in the world (aside from flying through Heathrow that is).  Our first year we were in the airport getting ready to board our flight here when all the air traffic controllers in Spain went on the strike.  Before our eyes, the entire airport emptied out... London.Fail.  The second attempt was this past fall when we made a trip to Legoland, Windsor and the Cotswolds.  We hadn't planned on a trip into the city but when the kids weren't enjoying the countryside as much as we'd hoped, we figured that we would attempt to go into London on our last day.  Again... Fail.  Too much traffic had us sitting on a bus for hours and we never made it in.

So this week, with the kids on February break, we did it.  We made it into London!  I was like a kid at Christmas the whole week leading up to the trip, a bit in awe of the fact that we are finally going to be in London.  And a little nervous that, like Christmas, there might be a let down after getting so excited with anticipation.

But no, there was no let down.  Yes, there were certainly moments that we've had so far that have not been the best (primarily behavior of our children on the first day) but overall, it has been an amazing trip so far.  First and foremost, the weather - the weather in London is never fantastic and is totally unpredictable.  And that was part of the reason we decided to come in February.  If odds were that we were going to have crappy weather, we might as well go in February rather than give up a possible great beach trip in July for rain in London.  Well, it's only day 3 as I write this and so far, we've had mid to upper 40s with sun, yes sun.  It's looking like the next 2 days are the same with our final day being around 39 and cloudy... ok, not as much looking forward to that cold but given the temps so far, it's totally manageable.

Since this is a 5 day trip, I'm going to end up breaking this into a few entries.  The day of our arrival was a bit of a chaotic one.  The airplane ride itself was non eventful.  The kids were great and chill overall.  They had their itouches and they have become pros at these "short" flights as they call them - anything under 3 hours is a short flight for them and really just "easy peasy" as they tell me.

Breakfast in the airport... Josh's "tradition" - Doritos and chocolate milk.  Um, delicious???

So excited for our trip!

Having a snack on the plane

Mommy, we're sinking (into the clouds)!!

We decided that since our apartment host would not be able to let us into our apartment til noon (our flight landed at 9) that we would just take our time getting into the city via the train.  That and it was significantly less expensive than taking a taxi which would have cost a small fortune.  I've got to give credit to the London transportation system - I thought Barcelona was great (and it is) but in a city of this size, they really do have the transportation system down pat.  And people have been incredibly friendly helping us out.  I totally for some reason expected London-ers to be a bit on the snobby side and nothing could be further from the truth so far - everyone has been incredibly friendly.

Anyways, the transportation to the apartment was pretty easy but the kids were totally in crash mode, constantly touching and picking on each other, making Josh and I, insane.  I have no doubt in hindsight that this was due to them getting up at 5:30 that morning and the excitement of the impending trip.  But at that particular moment I could have left them on the next street corner and have been happy.  We took the train from Gatwick Airport to King's Cross, probably the nicest train station I've been in with nice shopping and some cute restaurants.  This is not your typical transportation hub!  We grabbed a quick snack with the kids during which they whined and Liam spilled his yogurt drink everywhere - yes, we were THOSE American travellers that morning, and it wasn't pretty.

We finally got to our stop on the Underground and I checked google maps for how we had to go to walk to the apartment.  According to my printout that I had brought, it should be a 7 minute walk.  But when I google mapped it on my phone, suddenly we were on the wrong side of the city, a 2 hour walk away.  Great, this is just what we needed when we were already on our last nerve.  We ended up hailing a cab at that point - yes, defeating everything that we had just done.  But wait, not all is lost... because it turns out that something was wrong with my google maps on my phone and yes, the apartment was just a 7 minute walk away...meaning that yes, we were in the cab for less than 2 minutes (still to the tune of almost 4 pounds!).

Feeling a little foolish that we had the cab driver take us "all" the way to the apartment when we were perfectly capable of walking it, it reminded Josh and I a little of a trip to NY years and years ago when we were in search of Ruths' Chris Steakhouse.  We couldn't find it to save our lives and it was long before cell phones had internet connections on them or before Google even existed.  We hailed a cab and he literally took us one block.  Yup, this is how we felt on Saturday morning when the cab driver dropped us off in front of our apartment.

Our street in Notting Hill

Finally, we made it!!

We were 30 minutes early to get in and the kids wouldn't stop fighting.  I spotted a small park up ahead and took them over to play.  We met an American woman with her 3 kids, one of which was Liam's age.  She had been living in London for the last 8 years (her husband is British) and she gave me the scoop on the area.  She had caregivers for her kids that were from Spain and had moved to London from Tenerife back in the 60s - so I chatted with them a little bit about life in Catalunya.  Kids playing, me socializing...the day was starting to look up.

Playing on the playground

Nothing makes boys happier than climbing!

Mom, what in the world is the point of this?

After getting in to our apartment we decided to take the park woman's advice and do so walking around our neighborhood to grab lunch and to get some groceries.  I had thought we were staying in the Marble Arch area of the city which certainly would have been easier as far as getting into the center of London but it turns out I actually booked an apartment in Notting Hill (which in the description read that it was a 10 minute metro ride into the center of the city, somehow I missed "metro").  It actually a really beautiful area and a little more low key and quiet.  So quiet that on our first morning, Aidan and I both were woken by the sounds of... birds.  Yes, birds.  We've become so used to city noises that we forgot what it's like to hear nature!!
Church by our apartment, so pretty!

Anyways, we had a great lunch at a place called Côte and I think we all kind of calmed ourselves down.  Little sleep, travel and hunger do not mix well.  The kids were dying to go to Hamleys toy store and given their behavior we had told them no, but of course, being the suckers we are, we relented.  So after hitting the grocery store, we made our way into the city.

Getting off the Underground at Oxford Circus, I was shocked by the amount of people.  Truly shocked.  A friend of mine had compared London to New York City, but I really didn't think any city could come close to the busyness of New York City but apparently that was not the case.  And it was the same fast pace as NYC as well - no longer the meandering pace of Barcelona by a long shot.  We made our way to Hamleys and along the walk, we passed Banana Republic and Gap.  Yes, I was in my happy place.  I made a deal with the kids that they got Hamleys but then I got BR and Gap.  And Daddy got... ummmm, well, Daddy can call out what he wants when he wants it!

I really like the Underground signs

Is that Banana Republic that I spy??

Cool building in Oxford Circle

And GAP!!!

Finally, Hamleys!!  The kids have been waiting so long to come here!!

Well, I think every parent in London had the same plan on Saturday because they were ALL inside Hamleys.  No joke.  There were thousands of people inside this massive toy store that spanned 5 huge floors.  The kids were overwhelmed yet in total heaven.  And I'll admit they were really good about the "I wants" - and they didn't ask for much.  We probably spent a good hour exploring the toy store and came out less poor than we anticipated.  
Outside Hamleys

Cannot stop looking at all the toys as I take his picture

Look at all these people and this is just when we entered!

Cool Spiderman dangling from the ceiling

Power Ranger made out of tons of mini Power Rangers

Electronic bugs... 

Next stop, GAP!!  Aidan was in need of some stuff for spring and a new pair of (non holed) jeans - but of course, it being February, the stores are kind of in that in between season - so there were some short sleeve things but not a ton.  Don't worry though we managed to find some new things for both kids :)  I, however, didn't have as much luck.  I'm on a mission for some new jeans and while I felt a bit rushed since the kids were on their last moments of patience, the only jeans I found were ones with pre-made holes - something I was not looking for, or colored jeans.  I love the colors and tried a pair on... so not meant to be.  And so I left there with 2 shirts and no more.  But there are still days left in the trip, I WILL find jeans!  Banana Republic had even less, so disappointing!!!

At this point, it was close to 5 and the kids were on the verge of a massive meltdown, so we decided to call it a day and head back to the apartment and eventually out to dinner.  We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant down the road, Aidan's choice, and it was probably the best Mexican food we've had since moving to Barcelona.  So not a bad choice!  Bedtime was early that first night in anticipation of a full day our second day!


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