Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Part 1 - London

After being home for almost two weeks, I feel like I have already told so many people about our trip. But for anyone who hasn't heard yet, or wants more details, or just wants to see pictures, here you go!

We took a red eye flight from LAX to Heathrow. It was such a smooth and easy flight and the night flight made the jet lag pretty easy to deal with. We had dinner, watched a movie, and then everyone fell asleep. Isaac got a pretty solid 5 hours, while Charlie & I just dozed a bit. Once we landed we hit the ground running! It was a bit of a juggling act managing all of our bags, a car seat, and a stroller. We took the train from the airport to Paddington station and then just took a cab the rest of the way to Tyler & Maren's house.

Charlie & Isaac riding the train from Heathrow to Paddington

Charlie's brother Tyler works for the State Department and is assigned to the London Embassy for the next couple of years. He & his wife Maren have a beautiful four bedroom flat in Hampstead. They were so nice to let us stay with them and to help show us around the city. Charlie's twin brother, Chris & his wife Carly were celebrating their 10 year wedding anniversary, so Charlie arranged for them to fly to Paris, and then meet up with us in London too.
It was mid afternoon by the time we made it to Tyler & Maren's house, so we just dropped off our bags and then took off to meet up with Chris & Carly. Our first stop was Westminster Abbey. We didn't go inside, but just let Isaac run around and chase pigeons for awhile. We got our first views of Big Ben and Parliament and then we walked down towards the London Eye and watched some of the street performers.

Westminster Abbey

Isaac watching the street performers from Dad's shoulders

They have a carousel there, and Isaac loves carousels so we decided to take him on it. As we were waiting in line for our turn, I began to have second thoughts. I have never seen a carousel spin so fast! And then we also noticed that there were no seat belts on these horses either. Well there was no way we were going to get out of that line without Isaac throwing a fit, so he & I got to take a ride on the carousel of doom. We survived. Isaac loved it and I felt sick for the next half an hour.

Carrie & Isaac on the carousel

That night Tyler suggested we have dinner at The Audley - a classic English pub. We ate in the upstairs dining room (where Michelle Obama ate recently). I had fish & chips and smashed peas with mint. I loved the peas, but Charlie was not a huge fan so I suppose I won't be making them anytime soon. We rode home on a double decker bus. A must do for any London tourist, right? Well at least a must do for Isaac! He loved it.

Isaac loved seeing all of the double decker buses (sorry it's blurry!)

The next day Tyler had to work, but the rest of us headed out to Leicester Square to buy theater tickets. We checked out the markets in Covent Garden, and Charlie bought a little snack. As he was eating it, I said "hey, that's a hot cross bun!" Everyone knows what a hot cross bun is, right? It's that first song that you learn when playing any instrument: Hot Cross Buns. Except Charlie had never heard of it! I'm glad we were able to enlighten him. Next we walked down to Picadilly Circus to have lunch. We ended up at Ed's Diner - a classic American 1950's diner - and ate hamburgers & cheese fries.

Isaac at Ed's Diner

Chris, Carly & Maren at Ed's Diner

Next it was time for some shopping! Okay, so we got sucked into a souvenir shop:

Isaac's police hat. We meant to get a picture of him wearing it next to a real officer, but never did. He wears it all around the house since we've been home.

Then it was off to Harrod's. I think we are pretty spoiled living in Orange County and right next to South Coast Plaza. That being said, it was still fun to browse all of the designer fashions as well as their impressive food gallery, the Egyptian Hall, and the toy department. We managed to walk out empty handed but Charlie & I were joking that we could do some serious damage if we wanted to!

Charlie & Carrie outside of Harrod's

By the time we made it to our next stop Isaac was sound asleep. I don't mind a little jet lag if it means Isaac will actually take a nap (he gave them up about six months ago)! We decided to wake him up for the Natural History Museum. He went from this:

To this:

All it took was for me to whisper "Isaac, do you want to see some dinosaur bones?" He slowly opened his eyes, sat up, and got a huge smile on his face. It was really funny. And he loved the museum. He saw dinosaur bones, all kinds of animals, fish, rocks, fossils, etc.

Isaac checking out the monkeys at the museum

Isaac's "fish face" - it's kind of a backwards pucker, but we think it's funny

Isaac & Carrie with the dinosaur bones

The sister-in-laws outside the museum: Maren, Carrie & Carly

The twins: Chris & Charlie

After the museum we split up for the evening. Chris & Carly went to see the show Chicago and totally loved it. Maren headed home, and Charlie, Isaac & I went to ride the London Eye. It started raining on our way over, but luckily we had this:

I remember when we bought this Maclaren stroller thinking that I would never use the rain cover! But after spending a few days in rainy England I completely understand why these English strollers come with rain covers!

We did not have the best weather during our visit, but at least we never got stuck in a major down pour. Anyway, we figured we were never going to have a fantastic clear view while we were there, so we might as well do the Eye in the rain. We were still able to see quite a bit. I thought Isaac would be more excited about riding the "giant ferris wheel" but instead he was kind of grumpy and only wanted to sit on the bench and eat gummy worms. He actually really liked the 4-D movie afterwards. I was surprised that he kept his glasses on for the whole thing (it's only like 5 minutes) and it was so funny to watch him reach out and try to grab the seagulls flying by!

Charlie, Isaac & Carrie on the London Eye

A view of Big Ben & Parliament from the London Eye

Isaac riding the London Eye

Isaac & Carrie riding the Eye

That night we had dinner at an Italian place (not so great), and then stopped at a grocery store on the way home to stock up on Cadbury Fruit & Nut bars. We also discovered Cadbury cake rolls. They are like those Little Debbie swiss cake rolls, but way better. Yum.

First on our list for Tuesday was to go see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. This turned out to be a disappointment! Not only were the guards dressed in their "rain gear" (boring grey coats and very average looking hats) rather than the bright red coats and Bearskin hats, they never even did the ceremony. I assume it was because of the weather? But it was actually pretty clear that day.

Maren & Carrie outside of Buckingham Palace

Charlie & Carrie at the Palace gates

Charlie, Isaac & Chris at the fountain outside of Buckingham Palace

We did see a few carriages and horsemen passing by, but not the official ceremony. As the carriages were passing by, with their shades drawn, I was trying to imagine who might be traveling inside. It seemed surreal to see these guards in their traditional capes & hats and a horse drawn carriage in the middle of a modern city, and think that this was not just a show but actually still a form of transportation.

Tyler met up with us for lunch and we headed to Trafalgar Square and the Cafe in the Crypt at St. Martin's church. Chris & Carly had volunteered to take Isaac for a day, so after lunch we split up. Isaac left with his aunts & uncles and Charlie and I had the rest of the afternoon and evening to ourselves! I was feeling a little anxious because I have never left Isaac for quite that long (10 hours), and I think I was just nervous that he would wonder where I was or be sad. I knew he was in good hands though, so I managed to get over it and enjoy a day of childless vacation.

Tyler, Maren, Charlie, Isaac, Carrie, Carly & Chris

Charlie and I decided to spend the afternoon shopping. We checked out a few European department stores and browsed the designers on Oxford Street. As we were walking Charlie pointed out this little cream puff place: Beard Papa. They have all of the puffs ready made, and then you choose your filling and they prepare them for you. This is genius because then the puff doesn't get soggy and the cream is still cool when you eat it. We ordered the chocolate covered eclairs. We thought it was such a cool little place, and unique to London... until we got home and googled it. There is a Beard Papa in Costa Mesa (about 10 miles away from us)!

Charlie ordering eclairs at Beard Papa

For dinner we ended up at the Indian Brasserie right next to the theater. We had two kinds of naan bread, chicken tikka masala (a little too spicy for me), butter chicken (which was delicious but was probably way more butter than anyone should be eating in one meal!), and basmati rice. Though not the best Indian food I've had, it was the only Indian food I've had in quite awhile and it reminded me we should eat it more often.

Carrie at the Indian Brasserie

Next it was off to Mamma Mia. We both had so much fun! We had seen the movie and enjoyed it, but the show was much better. There are more songs, better vocals, and it's just a little more scandalous, but funny! We had the songs stuck in our heads for the next several days.

Charlie & Carrie outside the Mama Mia theater

We arrived back at Tyler & Maren's house to find Isaac bathed and ready for bed with a big smile on his face. He had a fun day with Chris, Carly, Tyler & Maren. They went to the British Museum, had crepes from the crepe stand, and Maren cooked dinner for everyone at home. They said he was very well behaved; better than he is for his own mother. That I can believe!

Carly & Isaac at the Natural History Museum

Isaac & Carly playing back at the house

Wednesday morning Chris & Carly had to head home to Utah. Maren had been playing tour guide for five days straight and was ready for a rest, and Tyler had to work, so we had a day to ourselves. Our plan was to stop for breakfast at this famous Creperie de Hampstead that we had been hearing so much about, but they were closed! So we ended up at McDonald's.

Charlie & Isaac at McDonald's

Our next plan was to go see the Tower of London, but as we walked out of the underground we were blasted with freezing wind and rain that was turning to snow. I could feel my hands going numb as I was fastening the rain cover on Isaac's stroller. I am a huge wimp when it comes to cold and knew I'd be miserable if I didn't get back inside. And so, back on the subway we went. We decided to go see St. Paul's Cathedral. But that plan didn't go very far either. We saw it, took a picture, went inside, and then turned around and left. We opted to save the 25 pounds and save the headache that we'd surely have from trying to keep Isaac happy inside a cathedral. I think what I will remember most about that place is that I managed to stall the big revolving door on my way in. It caught on the back of my foot and automatcially stopped moving. No one could get in or out for about 10 minutes. I'm just glad I was already in and not out in the cold!

St. Paul's Cathedral

By the time we got back to the Tower it had stopped raining and seemed a little warmer. Now the problem was Isaac. He just wasn't having a great day. We wanted to take the guided tour but knew that he would probably not have the patience for that. We did get to see the Crown Jewels, a Beafeater, the Tower Green, and the gift shop. That's about it. The jewels were beautiful, but I found some of the gold serving ware to be a little ridiculous. The Grand Punch Bowl for instance, which weighs about 5oo lbs and is big enough to bathe in. Really, who is going to drink that much "punch?" Anyway, I was explaining some of the history of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to Charlie and I think he must have been impressed because he asked how I knew so much. And then I think he was not so impressed anymore when I told him that I had read The Other Boleyn Girl. Hey, it's still history even if it is a romance novel!

Carrie & Isaac at the Tower Green

A view of the Tower Bridge from inside the Tower of London

Oh, and we finally saw a guard with the Bearskin hat! Aren't these guys supposed to be totally straight faced and stoic? Because this guy failed miserably! First of all, he was chewing gum - a total "no no" if you ask me. And second, he didn't even seem to be trying not to laugh. We were not even funny.

Charlie & the Tower gaurd

I thought the Tower Bridge was beautiful. Everyone always mistakes this for the London Bridge. I wonder how that got so mixed up? The London Bridge is actually very plain, while the Tower Bridge is the famous and regal bridge that everyone recognizes. Next time we are in London I would love to go up and take the tour.

Charlie at the Tower Bridge

We stopped by Westminster Abbey and Big Ben once more on our way back to Hampstead. And then one more stop before heading back to the house: the Creperie. Okay, when Tyler and Maren told us about this place we pictured something a little different. We didn't realize that it actually was just a crepe stand. But it is famous, and for good reason! They use a ton of butter and make the crepes just a little bit crispy, then load them with nutella and banana slices (or whatever you choose), fold them up, slide them into their little paper wrapper, and serve them with a knork. Yes, a knork. That is what we decided to call these little plastic knife/fork utensils that we had never seen before!

Charlie ordering crepes from Le Creperie de Hampstead. It really is just that little stand!

Charlie with his crepe and the "knork"

Maren made us a nice home cooked meal that evening, and we were able to do some laundry and pack up in preparation for the next part of our trip. But as we were talking about our day, those crepes started to sound really good to everyone and we decided to head back out for one more. Why not? We were on vacation!

Carrie, Maren, Tyler & Isaac waiting for crepes. There is always a line!

Thursday morning Maren took us out for a little more shopping at Selfridges, which is famous for their unique window displays, and then over to the Embassy. We had to get special clearance as Tyler's visitors, and then go through full security and check all phones, cameras, etc. outside. Not just anyone can go in, so we felt kinda cool to be able to go on a tour.

Carrie, Charlie & Isaac outside of the US Embassy

And that was pretty much the end of our visit to London. We took a cab back to the airport, and from there flew to Barcelona for the second half of our trip. That will be another post!

Charlie, Carrie & Isaac outside of Tyler & Maren's flat

Despite any mention of grumpiness on Isaac's part, he was actually very well behaved on our trip. We think he had fun too. He loved being on the airplane, pointing out double decker busses, playing with his aunts & uncles, exploring Tyler & Maren's house, and he especially loved riding on all of the subway trains.

Isaac was excited to see so many double decker buses

Isaac riding on the subway

Overall we had a great time and really enjoyed London. It did not feel very international to us - more like a city in the US. (Charlie says Boston, but I've never been there so I can't compare.) We were lucky to have such wonderful hosts and a great place to stay. We are already planning to go back!