Where the Streets are Paved in Gold

Johannesburg. Founded in 1886 when gold was struck and the mines were dug. Its an ironic beginning for this major African city when you look at it now and how its developed over the past 130+ years. It is now a city of barbed wire and electric fences. Regardless, its Monsieur’s hometown and we couldn’t come all the way to South Africa and not stop by for a visit. Most importantly we needed to spend some time with Granny D, Monsieur’s grandmother and our kids’ great grandmother.

Four Generations in Jo’Burg

We routed ourselves from Cape Town to Jo’Burg. It was a social visit and not a tourist stop, so our stay was just 3 quick nights on our way to the Timbavati and our safari. Our plan was to visit Granny D as well as some of the remaining friends and family still living in town. Monsieur also wanted to take the kids on a tour of the city so that they could see his hometown.

Johannesburg is the scariest city I’ve ever visited. The crime rate here is extremely high. Not just robberies, but violent crime is rampant. People live behind walls and fences with electrified barbed wire across the tops. Red lights are approached with the most caution as you never know when one of the many poor folks begging on the corners will be a carjacker. Cellphones stay out of sight and handbags tucked under the seats. You are always on guard here and as a Canadian we are truly fish out of water in a place where you’re constantly on edge. So our visit here was jam packed and compact so we could get in and out with our (ok MY) nerves still intact.

On the move in Jo’Burg, security measures for a neighbourhood. Not an uncommon sight.

Day one, we headed out with a driver (feeling this was the safest way to approach our transport around the city) to tour around the neighbourhoods and schools Monsieur frequented as a kid. We managed to wind our way into his old neighbourhood in Orange Grove and found his childhood home. He was surprised at how little had changed, although the fence was higher. He rang the bell at the gate and the sweet woman inside answered. He explained why we were there and if you can believe it in this crime ridden city, she let us in to have a look! It was lovely and Monsieur was very touched.

We eventually found our way to the home of Monsieur’s old classmate W and his lovely wife S. They hosted us for lunch in the sunny garden and our kids all had a ball getting to know each other. It was a fun afternoon while the boys reminisced about their childhood and adolescent adventures. They also filled us in on how life in South Africa was changing.

Day two was devoted to visiting Granny D who is now living in a Senior’s Home in Jo’Burg. We met up with her in the snack bar at the home where she had invited a few of her neighbours to join us. It was clear that Covid has been hard on this community between lockdowns and visitor restrictions. They all seemed very happy for the chance to meet some new faces and chat about all the things happening in the world.

After the tea break, we took everyone out for lunch. In Jo’Burg, people spend their spare time out and about in gated shopping malls with plenty of security. So we followed suit and took them all to a strip mall with a collection of restaurants called “The Neighbourhood”. They all agreed that they were glad for a break from the meals served in the cafeteria at the home and were happy for a good South African grilled meat meal!

After lunch, Granny D was worn out so we brought her back to the home for a rest and bid her farewell, promising we would visit after our Safari before we flew home. Monsieur’s Mom (aka Granny B) was with us so we headed back to her hotel and a nose around the gated community she was staying in. Melrose Arch is a secure CBD area with plenty of security so its safe to walk around and visit the shops and restaurants.

Drake spotting in Jo’Burg

Following our stay in the Timbavati, we had to return to Johannesburg for one night before we flew home and ended our trip. During that stay, we spent more time visiting Granny D. We also took the kids to Sandton – essentially the new downtown area of Johannesburg. We stopped for lunch in Sandton Square to see the massive statue of Nelson Mandela which interestingly enough is out of proportion, unless Mandela had such short legs.

Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton City

We were grateful that the most heart-pumping moments we faced in Jo’Burg were on the way out. As we were headed to the airport we watched a car beside us, driving in the fast lane with a driver busily texting away not watching the road. In true South African fashion, the road works were set up in the lane with little to no warning. She luckily looked up at the last second, avoided swerving into us, slammed on the breaks and only took out the traffic cones and fortunately none of the workers.

A few minutes later, with elevated heart rates we arrived at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg. The driver was busy unloading our luggage when all of a sudden tires screeched and people were yelling. A small white pick-up truck had backed out of the drop-off area at high speed and was now being chased by security on foot. Doors of the truck were open and luggage flying out and falling under the tires. I guess some person saw the car running, took the opportunity and stole it. It all happened so fast it was hard to piece together what had taken place.

Hearts really pumping, we hightailed it into the airport to get ourselves checked in and to the safety of airside. At the check in counter, we were checking all the bags and one box. An airline employee came to me and said that the box needed to be brought to a special baggage check in area and offered to take it once it was tagged. I’m Canadian so I unquestioningly follow instructions of people that seem to be in authority. I handed him the box and off he went. He came back minutes later and offered to escort us through the security line up so we didn’t have to wait in the long line. He would do this for a tip. Ok sure, I guess. We were out of rands but cobbled together a few US dollars and British pounds. He agreed and told us to wait while he went to find a wheelchair. “Wait, what?” Hang on a second. This fast track operation would require a fat tip AND a need for us to lie about our mobility ability. Ummm, no. I don’t think so. So we told him “it was fine, we don’t mind the lines.” As we approached the lengthy line up at security, I started to piece things together. Had I just handed my box of South African souvenirs to some random guy? Was he even an airline employee? What have I done? This is Africa, filthy lucre rules and many people are open to earning in all sorts of ways. Luckily, it seems that he was just a guy looking to make a buck in a society that’s so riddled with corruption that lying that you need a wheelchair to skip a line is no big deal. Much to my pleasant surprise, when we landed in Vancouver the box was with us and nothing was amiss.

The view from the Northern suburbs towards downtown with Hillbrow Tower in the distance

New Country/ New Continent

It was hard to believe that after 8 months on the road, we were now starting the last leg of our trip. We were headed to South Africa, the former homeland of Monsieur and one of our favourite places to visit. This was my third visit to South Africa and we were both quite excited to share this incredible place with our kids.

The first stop on our 2.5 week stay was Cape Town. Known as The Mother City, Cape Town is one of the three capital cities in South Africa, acting as the legislative capital. Its also a city near and dear to Monsieur’s heart having spent most of his childhood summers on the beaches here learning to Body Surf and taking in the waves.

We booked ourselves an Airbnb in the seaside neighbourhood of Bantry Bay overlooking the Atlantic side of the Cape. Bantry Bay is just a 15-20 minute drive south of the CBD of Cape Town and the famous V&A Waterfront. Its a great jumping off point to explore the Cape as there is so much to see.

We booked a direct flight from Frankfurt to Cape Town flying 12 hours through the night arriving mid-morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Monsieur was all primed to drive on the left side of the road after our stay in the UK. Navigating from the airport to Bantry Bay was relatively easily between Google Maps and Monsieur’s memory, though much has changed since our last visit here 13 years ago.

The view towards Clifton from Bantry Bay

After dropping our bags at the rental house and cleaning up a bit, we took a drive to visit our cousins L & H down in Kommetjie (pronounced coma-key). We took the kids through the enclave of Clifton Beach, through the stunning Camps Bay with a view of the incredible Twelve Apostle mountain peaks and over the famous Chapman’s Peak. The latter a vertiginous cliff-top, seaside drive towards Cape Point on the Cape of Good Hope.

L gave us some directions to stop at their local beach in Kommetjie before we were expected at their house. This wild beach with a fabulous break was full of after work surfers. It was amazing to see this wild beach so close to a big city like Cape Town. Perhaps this is part of the Cape Town charm. You have such wild and tumultuous natural spaces like this juxtaposed so closely with a world class, global city. Littered with bull kelp and plenty of salty sea spray, Kommetjie is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t help but marvel that if this were in North America, there would be skyscraper hotels lining this beach, not rows of quaint beach cottages and surf shacks.

Our second day in Cape Town was devoted to a walk down memory lane for Monsieur and Granny. We took a drive over the north end of Table Mountain, past the Rhodes Memorial and on to Muizenberg (pronounced Mu-zen-berg). A small surf town overlooking False Bay and depending on who you ask, the Indian Ocean side of Cape Point. Technically, the southern most point of Africa is actually Cape Agulhas located southeast from Cape Town. However, the romantic division between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans continues to be the Cape of Good Hope.

Driving through Muizenberg, Monsieur and Granny noted many changes but were amazed and at how little had changed at all. South Africa is not a country where infrastructure improvements happen with any speed at all. Instead we found a beach with several of its famous, colourful beach boxes falling down in disrepair.

While it was the middle of winter it was a sunny day and the surf was breaking in False Bay, so there were plenty of folks beachside to catch a wave including a large gang of would-be surfers from the Muizenberg Surf Emporium gathered for a class. Much too cold and great white shark-y for our tastes, we popped into the shop instead to collect some surf-enirs (see what I did there) for friends back home.

For lunch, we headed south along False Bay towards Kalk Bay. We stopped at a fish and chips shop right on the wharf called Kalkys. Nothing fancy, it was order at the counter and sit at picnic tables. Kalkys clientele was definitely the fishermen coming off the boat, so there was no excuse for frozen fish here. There was plenty of selection of locally caught seafood; snoek, hake, calamari, prawns and even octopus.

Photo evidence of our stop at Kalkys

Filled to the gullet with fried food, we continued driving south towards Simon’s Town – home of the South African Navy and on to Boulders Beach. Boulders is home to a colony of endangered African Penguins and offers a fantastic visitor experience with boardwalks through the massive granite boulders, along the beach to best view the birds. We were all happy to see the funny little penguins up close and waddling around and get our first taste of South African wildlife.

That evening we were treated to another yummy home cooked dinner, this time with Monsieur’s Auntie T. The main reason we added South Africa to our trip was so we could visit Auntie T and help her celebrate her 80th birthday which had been postponed a year due to Covid. Auntie T lives in the V&A Waterfront and took us on a walk to visit her resident seal colony. V&A Waterfront is a genius bit of development with several cool hotels, a vast shopping complex, an aquarium, a food market, a fabulous local craft and products market just to name a few of the attractions. Auntie T is our Queen of Cape Town having lived here her whole life, serving as a Counsellor and Mayor of the city in the 90s. She has a fantastic knowledge of the city and we made a plan to visit some art studios with her the following day.

The Little Kid with Auntie T’s friendly neighbourhood seals

Leaving the kids at the Airbnb with wifi and devices, Monsieur, Granny and I headed out on an adventure with Auntie T. She first took us to visit the ceramics studio of her friend Clementina van der Walt. Unfortunately Clementina was away on holiday in of all places, Canada. We were sad to miss her, but we did enjoy visiting with her apprentice Adonis N’sele Mumpango. He is from the Congo and was working on some of his own ceramic pieces drawing on Congolese artistic traditions. It was a lovely visit, I just wished that some of his pieces were finished so we could take one home!

Our second stop on the Auntie T adventure brought us to one of my most favourite places in Cape Town, MonkeyBiz. Founded in 2000 by Barbara Jackson, Shirley Fintz and Mathapelo Ngaka the goal of MonkeyBiz is “economic upliftment”. They hire people, many women who can’t find other employment, to work as artists creating traditional beadwork. They can work from home and are empowered by the MonkeyBiz community to seek financial independence. Initially they started with the mandate to hire HIV positive women who struggled to find work. Its now expanded to employ all genders who need a helping hand. The beadwork is incredible and much more elaborate than any other tourist trap beadwork I’ve seen. Each piece from MonkeyBiz is a one-of-a-kind piece of art.

We first visited MonkeyBiz in 2004 in their studio in the BoKaap. When we returned in 2008, they had opened a stand alone shop just down the street. Covid was not kind to MonkeyBiz and they were now relocated into a studio space shared with famous South African table wear designer Carroll Boyes in an industrial park. Carroll was partners with Barbara Jackson, both have since passed away but the incredible synergy between the two brands remains and you can find MonkeyBiz pieces in Carroll’s stores around the world.

To me, MonkeyBiz is an inspiring story. Three women came together to address an issue in society, with poverty alleviation as a mandate but also encouraging and promoting the locally acquired cultural artistry. Its fascinating to see how they have evolved and we were very happy to be in a position where we could help support them in a small way by buying some more pieces – this time some very sweet Christmas decorations.

Treasure at MonkeyBiz (ps check out the Nutella jar!)

On our fourth day in the Mother City, we picked up our young cousin L who happens to be around the same age as The Little Kid. We took all the kids over to the V&A Waterfront. Our plan was a stop to pick up some safari supplies and some cozy pj pants for the Little Kid. We did all that and Monsieur insisted that for lunch we have Steers Burgers. With apartheid, many brands left or boycotted South Africa, leaving the country to develop its own homegrown cache of products and brands. This is why any city with a sizeable South African community can easily sustain a shop selling all the favourites; Mrs. Ball’s Chutney, Flings Snacks, Jelly Tots and always biltong (South African dried meat) to name a few. Steers is the South African McDonald’s but with a slightly better reputation. It was a dirty fast food lunch, but it was one we could only get there so Monsieur was very happy!

South African snacks were a must do… perhaps there’s a new business in the future?

After lunch, we walked with the kids over to see The Watershed Market. A fantastic collection of over 150 artisans selling arts, crafts and other local products. We loved getting a look at some of the fantastic African carvings, bead work, baskets and canvases. We loved this indoor spot to shop for great souvenirs and African artwork. The other great place in Cape Town for this sort of shopping is downtown at Green Market Square. Also an amazing destination for African handicrafts, but somehow the Watershed was a little less chaotic and feels safer.

The kids at Nobel Square V&A with the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Albert Lutuli, Desmond Tutu, FW DeKlerk and Nelson Mandela

That evening we had planned to meet L & H for dinner at a steak house in Camps Bay. It was a well timed plan as there was a scheduled power outage between 8-10pm. Load shedding is a fact of life across South Africa at the moment. The crumbling power infrastructure has left the country with not enough power to go around to the 60 million plus residents so scheduled power outages are necessary to stretch the limited supply. The restaurant was packed as flashlight carrying residents made the decision to eat out since there would be no power to cook with at home. Most restaurants have generators to kick in when the load shedding occurs. Around 8pm the power went off in the restaurant and seconds later the generator kicked in and powered everything back up. We would hardly have noticed besides the fact that it was so dark outside. We preferred to languish over dinner rather than brave the roads with all the traffic lights out.

The real highlight over dinner was meeting Tonda. Tonda was the manager of the restaurant and a member of Xhosa tribe. She is a firecracker of energy and joy. We immediately fell in love and were absolutely smitten when she took one look at the Little Kid and sized them up perfectly.

“Can you tell me where the washroom is?” The Little asked.

”Well,” said Tonda “You go outside and turn left. There you’ll see a big tree. You squat there!”

The Little turned as pale as can be. “This IS Africa.” Tonda boomed.

The Little burst into laughter, as did all of us. Then Tonda taught us a little Xhosa, an amazing language with 3 separate click sounds. A fabulous cultural experience right there in that steak house in the dark. We were super grateful that Tonda was so willing to share with us.

The Little with the lovely Tonda

Our final day in Cape Town was a busy one. Our cousin R invited us to have lunch with her and her daughter M in Kalk Bay. We met at the eclectic, yet delicious Olympia Cafe. It was good that we ate a solid meal, because we needed it for the next stop. Conveniently located just upstairs from the cafe is Kalk Bay Modern. Another haven for impeccable locally made art, jewelry and other handicrafts it was a feast for the soul. From fabulous embroidered tapestries to contemporary Bushman art to captivating canvases, Kalk Bay Modern was teeming with amazing original pieces. We were most taken with Patrick Makumbe, a Zimbabwean artist who’s work captures such humanity through colour and subject. What a treat to visit such a great incubator of Southern African art and artists.

Finally, to close out our amazing stay in Cape Town we hosted dinner for all our local family in the Airbnb. Our fabulous host connected us with Nicole who cooked one of the best meals of our trip. Believe me I’ll be first in line when Nicole finally publishes her cookbook. It was out of this world. We were very happy that we could have all 10 cousins, Auntie T and all of us for a feast. It was fun to host again, especially with Nicole cheffing it up in the kitchen so I didn’t have to lift a finger!

We were sad to say farewell to Cape Town. We had so much fun getting to know our Capetonian family better and were thrilled to see a different side of the city. In the chilly, rainy and wintry weather we were able to explore the more artistic nooks and crannies rather than our usual beaches and wineries. Although we did wish we had more time so we could show the kids some of the very old wineries of Constantia and the stunning landscapes of Paarl and Franschhoek. We decided that next time we needed to allow more time and return for the summer/ fall months when we could take better advantage of the amazing landscape.

Catching up with the family in CT

London Calling: The Summer Edition

We had such a great time in London at the beginning of our trip that we thought it would be good to get back there for a bit of an extended stay.  We have lots of old friends and family there and besides its f**king London and its awesome. Luckily we could spare the time, because our schedule was packed.  We could’ve easily spent another week. 

At the Albert Memorial

The drive from The Cotswolds was super easy.  Monsieur had mastered the art of driving on the left side of the road and I had mastered the art of not constantly wanting to adjust the rear view mirror.  We had honed these skills in the peaceful countryside and truth be told, we were a little anxious about exercising them in the city. Especially a city well known for formidable traffic.

We arrived late-morning on a Friday and we only screamed at the kids around 6 or 7 times. Why is absolute silence needed in these hairy driving moments?  We pulled up in front of our hotel (we splurged on a posh one that we like to call Clams) in our Volkswagen hatchback rental.  Four Canadians fell out of the car along with several Starbucks cups and chip bags (English snacks are pretty great) to find the front of the hotel cordoned off behind red velvet ropes and the street blocked by hordes of teenagers and paparazzi.  I wasn’t daunted and wove my way around the throngs to find the sweet doormen that helm the entrance of our beloved Clams.  I tapped him on the shoulder and in my best stage whisper said “We’re checking in?” 

”Well, then!” He bellowed, “Let’s get you sorted!”

The Little became BFFs with all the Boys on Brook Street at Clams

And that was that.  In we were swept through the masses of people waiting for someone far more famous than we could imagine and found our way to the front desk, leaving our VW hatchback parked out front next to the Bentley. We would be leaving to return it to the rental agency soon enough.  The Front Desk Clerk welcomed us with a big smile.  “Who is it?” I said.  “Is it J Lo and Ben?”  He looked down and shook his head.  “I can’t say.”  I started wracking my brain.  I do love a challenge.  Who on earth would warrant such a showing of rabid fans and paparazzi in the middle of the day?  “Beyoncé?”  Another head shake “I can’t say.”  I know! “Kim Kardashian?”  He wavered “I can’t say.”  Its not Kim.  “Its one of her sisters?”  He glowed red.  EUREKA!  Now which one…. Turns out it was Kylie, Stormy and Travis Scott.  We only needed to wait a minute to hear the crowds roaring outside for them.  Personally a Jenner/ Kardashian sighting doesn’t thrill me in the least, but the Little Kid was suitably impressed.  Score another point Clams!

We never did see the Scott/ Jenners in the flesh.  To be fair, I’m sure that they were sneaking out by the dumpsters.  THE most glamorous lifestyle if you don’t mind the stench of garbage.

Monsieur and I deposited the starstruck Little Kid and the non-plussed Big Kid up in the room and headed back out on the streets.  By then the paps had all but disappeared and only a few diehard fans were camped out waiting for the famous(er) folks to return.  We had the pleasure of continuing our journey back to the car rental place across London.  I navigated well enough that we barely fought and successfully dropped the car.  We were glad to be back on foot and car-less in the big city.  Between London’s amazing Tube network, prolific black cabs and Uber we wouldn’t miss it at all.

As I mentioned, we had a packed schedule while in London.  In addition to all the fun, we were preparing for the last stop on our trip (more on that later) so we had lots of little missions to accomplish.  Luckily we were able to tick them all off the to do list within just a few blocks of the hotel.

We planned an afternoon hang out with our friends D & J on the Saturday afternoon.  We met them in Camden Town right in the middle of the Saturday mayhem.  They led us on a walk that looped us up to the top of Primrose Hill to take in the view of the whole city.  We carried on down the hill and met up with the canal walking through the zoo section of Regent’s Park. We stuck to the cooler canal side and eventually looped back to the Camden Lock.  It was a fun side of London that you can only really see on foot. 

We had booked dinner at an Indian restaurant near Covent Garden called Cinnamon Bazaar. We missed ALL the Asian food while travelling around Europe and we were gonna make up for it goddamnit!  So D & J as true Londoners, took us on another adventure.  We took the tube to Tottenham Court Road station and continued the journey on foot through the Seven Dials traffic circle and on to Neal’s Yard.  How charming is that place?  Not JUST because it’s home to Monty Python’s first crash pad/ studio/ workplace or whatever, but because there’s some very cool little wine bars and pubs nestled into the courtyard.  We picked the first one that had enough seats for our 6 bums and tucked into some super yummy natural wine.  I think it was called Casanova & Daughters.  It was great and we were YET AGAIN grateful to D & J for showing us a side of London we had never seen.  Before we knew it our reservation was coming up fast and we needed to hightail it to dinner.  On foot again, D would shout out things like “That place has a great beer selection.”  Or “The Indian food there is the best.”  I wished I had filmed the whole speed walk to dinner because I can’t remember any other delicious and important-for-future-trips-to-London sort of details.  And in case you were wondering, the Indian food at Cinnamon Bazaar was pretty damn good too.

Following dinner, we spilled onto the streets of Covent Garden and found our Uber who drove us through a very busy Saturday night in Soho.  We saw some stuff that was new for the Little.  “I think that guy was dancing in the window butt naked?” They said.  Indeed he was Little, indeed he was.  Clearly Covid was in the rear view mirror here in London and I wasn’t about to adjust it to get a better look.

On Sunday morning, we had to divide and conquer our little team.  Monsieur and the Little headed out on the Tube towards Heathrow to meet our soon-to-be-arriving Granny.  The Big Kid and I headed to Selfridges on the errand train – we needed to pick up some cosmetics, a birthday gift and a new piece of luggage.  We were successful, including a scratch and dent suitcase marked down to £100, which is a bargain anywhere let alone at Selfridges.  We marvelled at all the people whiling away their Sunday, juggling multiple bags from Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and others.  Fancy pantsy in a way that we just didn’t encounter in Paris.  The level of wealth in Mayfair is unreal.  Makes Beverly Hills look like a trailer park.  I lost count of the Rolls, Maybachs and Bentleys parked on the street.

Granny arrived without a hitch and like a champ powered through her jetlag.  We had a lovely dinner with Monsieur’s cousins.  It was so pleasant to sit at someone’s home for a casual, chatty dinner.  I couldn’t remember the last time we had experienced that luxury.

Lovely family dinner with Y-S’s

Monday was a special day.  It was our wedding anniversary and I decided to celebrate by getting my highlights touched up.  Romantic right?  See, I told you London was fully of errands.  It had been 10 weeks since my last visit to the salon back in Paris and it was clearly time.  So Monsieur obliged.

The afternoon was spent touring Buckingham Palace.  We felt lucky as the Palace is only open to tourists for a couple of months in the summer.  It was especially poignant to visit during Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee year.  Now that she’s passed away, it was a big memory for our kids who felt especially connected to this historical moment after having been there so recently.  The Big Kid is also a very big fan of all things Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, so she enjoyed the chance to view the portraits and revisit their history with the Palace.

Hamming it up with The Royals

Feeling suitably cultured, coiffed and having fed the kids and Granny Gran with take-away Nando’s, Monsieur and I headed to Knightsbridge for another Indian dinner.  This time at Amaya, a Michelin starred Indian tapas restaurant that was very good.  I’m not much for a Michelin star restaurant – too foamy and truffle-y.  But Amaya was lovely.

Someone missed the memo… Happy ANNIVERSARY Monsieur

Tuesday we took the morning off to chill out a bit because we had a big afternoon planned.  We were going to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour.  Located about an hour northwest of London in Leavesden, we struggled a bit with how to get there and opted to take a black cab.  This worked pretty well as we were able to get all 5 of us in and it was about the same price as the train tickets.  For the return, the only really viable option was to take the shuttle bus to Watford Junction Station and then hop on the train to London Euston Station.  It was a super quick trip back and if we were to do it again, wouldn’t hesitate to do the train/ shuttle bus route.  You can’t miss the double decker shuttle buses – they have Harry plastered all over the sides of them.

The Studio Tour was amazing.  We are big Potter fans (books and films) so were very impressed with just how in depth this tour is.  It includes many of the major movie sets, props and costumes.  It was impressive and was definitely worth the price of admission for the three hour tour.  We finally got back to Clams and had hamburgers in the bar before we fell into bed for the night.  It was a big outing and one everyone loved it.

Wednesday was spent exploring Oxford Circus and Regent Street searching for back to school clothes and replacing all the things that the Little had grown out of over the past three months.  Later, we took a taxi up to Notting Hill to have a poke around Portobello Road. It was fun to peak into the little goofy shops mixed in with cute brocantes/ antiques. We also popped into visit Yottam Ottolenghi’s tiny Notting Hill outpost where we picked up some fun spices including his own Za’atar.

Craving a pie we decided we needed to find a good pub for lunch. This sounds like it would be very easy in London. But, its sort of tricky. While pubs are everywhere, they don’t always serve food all the time and if they don’t, the kids are persona non grata. Feeling like we weren’t up for the challenge of “Let’s Find an Open Pub, Serving Food More Than Just a Burger and Will Also Serve the Kids”, we hopped a cab and headed straight to the Duke of Argyll Pub again in Soho for lunch. We knew they served a great pie from when we last visited back in March. We also tried to get the Little to down some coffee and smoke a pack of cigarettes to try and stunt their growth in an effort to reduce all the new shoes expenses we were incurring on this trip.  Alas, no luck.  We will have to keep re-investing in shoes for this Little goober for many more years to come it seems.

The big highlight on this day was that the Kids decided that they were tired of errand running and weren’t interested in boring shopping at Whole Foods and Nespresso and asked if they could head back to the hotel on their own.  We were about a 15 minute walk away.  The Big Kid was cool with the challenge and felt confident that with the help of Google Maps, she knew the way.  So off they went, into the heart of Soho.  I didn’t know whether to dance a jig or bawl my eyes out.  I was so proud that they were ready to stretch their newly earned travel muscles on their own, but a little heartbroken that they were growing up so quickly before our very eyes.  You two sure you don’t want some coffee and smokes?

Thursday was another big day with some locals.  B & A, more London-based cousins of Monsieur met us with their lovely daughters at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Our kids were happy to meet some more new-to-them relatives and were doubly glad to have some kids to hang out with.  

Following St. Paul’s B guided us on another walking tour, this time South of the Thames.  Crossing over the Millennium Bridge we swung past the Tate Modern (we did sneak in for a quick peek until the kids rebelled – NO MORE MUSEUMS), past Skakespeare’s Globe Theatre and onto the Borough Market passing The Clink and through some even-creepy-in-the-daytime Jack the Ripper territory.  We ended up in The Old Thameside Inn for another yummy pub lunch.  I would remind myself that I would return to a wheat and pie free diet when we were back on Canadian soil.

After lunch, we hopped on the Uber Boat and headed towards Canary Wharf.  Unfortunately that day the boat wasn’t going as far as Greenwich our planned destination. Instead we braved the very boring and office-y Canary Wharf.  With everyone a little seasick from the boat, we decided we should take the train back to Mayfair and hopped the brand new Elizabeth Line which brought us right back to Oxford Circus and steps from Clams.  It was a fun Ferris Bueller-y kind of day where we saw tons and squashed a lot into a few hours.

We left all the 4 kids in the hotel room where they were very amused by the swanky Japanese toilets.  The 5 adults headed to Knightsbridge for sushi at Zuma.  It was pretty good but overpriced by Vancouver sushi standards.  We had a nice time but were not Kardashian enough for the place to NOT be rushed out the door as soon as the meal was done.  After dinner we were waiting for a cab and realized we were at the world famous Harrods.  So OF COURSE we popped our noses in to have a look.  I hadn’t been inside Harrods in years and we made a beeline to, in my opinion, the most interesting part of the store – The Food Hall.  We picked up some chocolate because DUH, its chocolate.

Only because we’re maniacs and we were trying to pack it ALL in, we had another busy day Friday.  Just in time for another serious heatwave in the UK.  Temps would soar into the mid-30s just as we were heading out on another walking tour.  This time the emphasis was on Victoria & Albert.  Mostly for the Big Kid since she’s such a fan thanks to the PBS series about young Victoria, but we managed to enjoy it too.  We walked from Clams, through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens to Kensington Palace.  We tried to keep to the shade and made a pit stop at the Palace gift shop of course.  We wound our way back to the Albert Memorial and around Prince Albert Hall.  The whole time, the guide shared with us much information about their legendary romance as well as the incredible strides that they supported into the industrial revolution.  Fascinating.

Queen Victoria at Kensington Palace

Friday night was the highlight of our trip.  We had booked tickets to see Coldplay at the first of their six shows at the legendary (although brand new incarnation of) Wembley Stadium.  After 25+ years in the music business, I have to say that this was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.  It was impeccable.  An incredible performance from the band with state of the art production, it was like a religious experience.  From the jump, the audience sang along to every word of every song.  Every audience member was part of the light show with LED wristbands that created a stadium wide effect.  Three different stages transported the band around to play to every seat in the house.  The fireworks blasted from the roof of Wembley as the first song began and continued at various points throughout the show.  Its easy to forget that this band has a repertoire of hits that rivals few others except maybe U2 and The Beatles.  Every song they played in their two hour set was a hit.  

It was emotional.  We danced to every song and at one point during Fix You I looked at the Little whose eyes were welling with tears.  “Are you ok?” I said.  “I’m fine,” she said blinking.  And then, “Actually, no I’m not.”  And then the tears started to fall and we both cried, overcome with so much emotion charging the atmosphere.  We cried with happiness being back in a place where we could share this connection with other people, with complete strangers.  This band understands the power that they can wield with their audience and they used it quite expertly.  It was impressive and I’ll say it again, impeccable.  Every element of the show was built with thoughtfulness and intention.  Bravo Coldplay.

Saturday was our last day in London.  We were still a-glow post Coldplay and had planned to see Mamma Mia in the West End.  I’m not sure if anything could have competed with our Friday night, but we couldn’t help but feel Mamma Mia was a little tired.  We went for the kids, who loved the movie.  We wished we had opted to see Hamilton instead.  Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.

Big Kid at Mamma Mia

We were very glad to have planned such a long stay in London.  As you can see, we had plenty to do.  London’s easy to return to and we definitely will. Now we are headed to the last country on our itinerary: South Africa!

Cape Town or Bust