I’m back in the USA. The kids are running around the house squealing with delight as they rediscover long lost toys and belongings. I, however, am in a bit of a daze. Every time I leave London and my parents, the feeling is heart wrenching. I’ll get over it soon enough and settle into a new rhythm of work and life, but right now I’m in Limbo. This post was very difficult to write, because the sheer volume of things I wanted to write about threatened to turn it into a mammoth rant. So, in the interests of your sanity and my time, I’ve turned it into a series of short lists. I’m never going to fit every little memory, and event that impacted me during my visit into this blog, because my relationship with London is just so very complex, layered and delicious. So here are a few of my favorite things:
The five things I miss about London the most
Walking everywhere, and never having to drive!
Always being within throwing distance of a decent cup of tea.
Being around people who knew me as a snot ridden tot/a silent teenager/an obnoxious twenty-something, and still like me!
My parents. This should actually be number one.
The five things my kids miss about London the most
Sitting on the top deck of a double decker bus
Tea time with an assortment of English biscuits
Being spoilt by grandparents
Corner shops and newsagents
Five Best Discoveries
David Walliams – my 10 year old is in love with his books
The Magic garden at Hampton Court. A very, truly magical playground.
Medieval graffiti at the Tower of London
The new wing of the Tate Modern. I LOVE the Tate modern.
The Kikki. K stationery shop in Covent Garden. Stationery heaven.
Five most blissful experiences
My birthday picnic at Morden Hall Park. The sun was out, the kids stripped off and splashed about in a stream, the food was delicious, and we were surrounded by beautiful rosebushes. Enough said.
Staying up late with my dad watching Only Fools and Horses, eating beans on toast, and snorting with uncontrollable laughter.
Watching my daughter learn to play cricket at Wimbledon Park, one of my childhood haunts, and seeing the delight on her face.
Getting up close with Bridget Riley paintings at the Tate Modern.
Long tube journeys with my mum, when we couldn’t stop talking and giggling.
Oh, and one last thing…
The Rosewater and pistachio cupcakes sold from a cart at Blackfriars Station made me so very happy, it would just be wrong to leave them out. Mmmmmm.
Battenbergs, Bakewells, Jaffa Cakes, Victoria Sponge….. I have been indulging in many childhood treats since I arrived in London three weeks ago, maybea fewtoo many, nostalgia does weird things to people, right? I’m not setting a very good example to my kids right now.
Fear not though, my interests here do extend beyond English puddings, and behaving disgracefully. In fact, I think my kids actually benefit greatly from spending summers here.
I visit London often, and always with my kids. Having grown up here, it offers me a level of comfort that most other destinations cannot. Examples: I never worry about getting lost, I have the tube map permanently etched on my brain. I don’t fiddle around with money trying to figure out which coin is the 20p, and which is the 50p (I’m looking at you, husband dear). I also still sound pretty local, with the exception of certain Americanisms that have slipped into my lingo – trash can, sidewalk, elevator (although I recently overheard a young Londoner finish a sentence with the word ‘period’ instead of ‘full stop’, so maybe I’m not so out of place) . I feel very much at home in London.
In fact, over the last few weeks I have found myself more than once entertaining dreams of moving back to London with my family (we would, of course, live right opposite Wimbledon Park in a spacious house with lavender and rosebushes growing around the vintage door. LOL). But let’s be honest, I don’t actually know anything about what it’s like to bring up a family here, to be a real adult with real adult problems to sort out. I left the country when I was a single, pretty gormless twenty-something, maybe it’s not as idyllic as it looks.
Having said that, London is still an excellent place to take your kids to in the Summer, and here is why:
The Public transport This had to be number one on my list. All children travel for free on buses, trams and the underground up to 11 years old (take that DC Metro!), and can apply for a visitor’s discount card until they are 15!! This makes life so very beautiful when you have a little trainspotter and a super energetic micro-tourist in tow.
The London Underground is, in my opinion, the best underground system in the world (and I’ve been on quite a few of them). It has the best map (don’t argue with me, just don’t), is easy to use because there are signs and announcements everywhere, its very hard to get lost on it. Want to see an example of how good design can improve your life ?- Use the Tube, form follows function, baby. Londoners who complain about it are spoilt and need to go and live somewhere else for a bit, so they can return with their tails between their legs.
The people Sheer population density means that you will never feel alone. Sure there may be moments of anger and frustration when you are in the midst of crowd of a thousand people all trying to get into Victoria station through one entrance, but the pay off is that your kids will always find other kids to play with wherever they are, and you will meet some really interesting people. London is so diverse in every single way, and I am glad that my kids get exposed to that. Hopefully they will grow up with a broad and accepting view of the world’s peoples. The world needs that more than ever right now!
The Food Yes, I know, England has never had a great reputation for it’s cuisine. However, my husband and I were so impressed by how easy it was to buy decent, tasty, nutritious food for our kids while sightseeing around London. We are vegetarian, and generally struggle in DC when we take kids into town for the day. Hot dogs, pizza and burgers seem to be a staple food at attractions there, with a limp salad lurking in a corner of a fridge for any vegetarians who dare wander in. By contrast, the museums, galleries, and other tourist places in London all had pretty good eating places, with lots of healthy (and multicultural) options. Also, to ensure that we never get stressed, there is always a Marks and Spencer or Pret a Manger not too far away with lots of yummy veggie options. Top marks London!
The Museums I’ll elaborate on this in another post, but the museums and galleries in London are the most child friendly I’ve encountered anywhere. Even the security guards seem less uptight. If you visit when English school kids are on vacation, then you will encounter so many amazing free events and hands on activities in them. Also, they almost always have indoor picnic areas for people with packed lunches, and great kid’s food options (see #3)
The Parks and Playgrounds
So many wide, green spaces to run around in, and they all have amazing playgrounds as well?!! I’ve said this before, London has the best parks and playgrounds!!! Here are a few that my kids love: Wimbledon Park, Battersea Park, Brockwell Park, Regents Park, Hyde Park, Morden Hall Park, Hampstead Heath. We have never managed to go to the Diana Memorial Playground, but have heard it is wonderful.
I know what you are thinking…What’s the point? It’s never sunny in England! Well, I visit London every alternate summer, and I have always had just enough sunshine to take my kids to these parks, so there!
Oh…my…god, the history. I am a history geek, and my children are fast becoming history geeks too. You can’t escape history in London, Romans, Normans, Saxons, Angles, Celts and the rest. The kind of gruesome history that places like the Tower of London have to offer is their favorite. Maybe not everyone will find this interesting, but, really, they should!
I’ll stop there, and put the rest of my thoughts in another post. I haven’t even started with: walking, teatime, corner shops, and Britain’s general enthusiasm for making the most of summer. However, the clock says it’s time for me to drink a cup of tea and eat a Jaffa Cake. Don’t sulk DC, I still love you too, but there’s always room for a bit of improvement. xxx