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

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