09 September 2014

katie in london

it was one of our final days in london.
the countdown was in its final hours as we readied ourselves to transfer to a cottage in the midst of the english countryside.
i was feeling anxious.
we only had a few hours left to do the ONE thing i wanted to do whist in this city.
(kind of not true, there were a lot of things i wanted to do while there. but this one i REALLY wanted to do.)

i hadn't added this activity to our list before leaving for london. i only heard about it after we arrived.
a friend from america (hi, sarah!), actually sent me a link in regards to this recent london landscape change.
all throughout the city, there had been benches placed, at different intervals, along different walking paths.
these aren't your traditional benches.
they are shaped as books that have been left open, revealing some of the world's most famous and beloved books.
peter pan. alice in wonderland. how to train your dragon. agatha christie's poirot. paddington bear.
there are over fifty benches scattered about the city.
it's called books about town.

while very fun and cool, this book bench phenomenon didn't reach high onto my "must-do" list until i saw that there was a "katie in london" bench, fashioned after the fantastic read by the same name.
katie in london? sitting on a "katie in london" bench?
it had to happen.
you see now, why, with only one day left before we were set to ride the rails out of the city, i was getting a little desperate to locate, what i considered, MY bench.

that's the thing about these benches.
they're not huge with spotlights shining down on them from nearby trees.
they're quite inconspicuous actually.
we ran across a few by accident but as it turns out, we had been right next to "my" bench on three separate occasions without realising it.

the "katie in london" bench is located right next to the tower of london, one of the most popular london attractions.
we had been to see it twice, once just because we were close by and then another time to show john the world war I installment they have displayed right now (another post for another time).
we had also been right by the tower on our way to another monument.
so you see, we should have seen the bench.
should have. but hadn't.
the fact remained: i needed to sit on my bench!

so we set out with the bench our solitary goal.
and had a load of fun in the process.
the pictures tell the tale:
we started the afternoon's adventure with a picture perfect postcard moment from a stop not far from where we disembarked the tube (i had become quite adept at navigating the underground with four children in tow by myself by this time. john was to join us later).
we discovered that we had wandered into Hay's Galleria, a small market square full of shops. we stopped to ponder the sculpture in the centre of the square and then continued on our way.
our tube stop (london bridge) left us on the wrong side of the bridge to see my bench first off, but we were able to find some other benches along the way while we waited for john to find us. (i honestly don't remember which one this was!)
quite possibly one of my most favourite sights. she is beautiful. breathtaking. seriously.
another bench! this was lauren child's "clarice bean". lauren child is also the author/illustrator of my kids favourite, "charlie and lola" so this was an instant hit with them.

while we were waiting for john to find us, we heard a few chimes of a bell and watched as the people gathered on the side of the thames. we had no idea was was about to happen but joined the throngs anyway. turns out, one of elijah's "must see in london" list items was about to get checked off. the tower bridge was opening!
more benches. no doubt why this one was popular with the kiddies...
how to train your dragon...
and alice in wonderland. all the previous benches were gathered in a circle around "more london", right next to the mayor's office building.
in order to see MY bench though, we had to cross over this amazing structure. this was my fourth trek across but it still captures me indescribably.

i had to...i mean really. i had to...
the kids were hungry. isn't that always the case? we paused our trekking to partake of some classic pub fare. bellies full, we continued on...
...across the bridge into an amazing evening. most of the afternoon had threatened rain which scared most of the tourists away. we were rewarded for our diligence by this view, yes, but also an almost empty walking path across the bridge (a rare sight if there ever was one!).
straddling the centre of the bridge!

finally! finally we make it to my bench, just as the sun was setting. and yes, i brought along my copy of the book. it's a fantastic read. i highly recommend.
the back of the bench. photos courtesy of elijah!
and as we slowly turned away and headed toward home, taking the long way beside the thames, we got to see some of our favourite london sights turn on their lights for us...tower bridge, of course...
the shard (elijah loves this building for some reason)...
...and the monument to the great fire. we hopped on the tube right outside this eerie sight.
and that's the story of how i finally got to take a picture with my bench.
katie in london, sitting on "katie in london".

04 September 2014

a do-over, please?

we have only had a few disappointments during our time in london.
missed a train. well, poo. that stinks. oh well. we caught the next one.
got lost. of course. took us longer to get there but we finally arrived.
restaurant closed when we got there. good thing london has thousands of eateries. we ate well at a lovely cafe down the street.

but there was one day that i really wish we could do again.
a do-over. please.

outside the natural history museum
it was a thursday. the london attraction on our agenda was the natural history museum. i was actually looking forward to it. i had done my research. according to the guide books, if you could only visit one museum with kids in london, this was it. even over the british museum and its amazing mummies. the building is historic, the exhibits world class. the royal family had prince george's first year photo shoot there for goodness sake! and best of all, they have dinosaurs. you enter through the main door into a grand hall, flanked by gigantic stone stairways and right down the centre of the hall is a monstrous dinosaur skeleton. a beautiful, ancient thing. our visit was going to be epic.

in hindsight, however, i can see there were four different items that combined to make this the worst museum visit ever.

1. we went in JULY. peak tourist season. what's a great activity for your london agenda? a stroll through the natural history museum. the museum website states that the museum plays host to over 5 million visitors in a year. about half of them were there that thursday.
2. we went on a RAINY DAY. what's a great activity for a rainy day? a stroll through the natural museum. half of london had the same thought.
3. we went in the AFTERNOON. what's a great activity for after lunch? a stroll through the natural history museum. "why don't we work off those fish and chips with a wander through the halls of the natural history museum?" "i say, old chap. now there's a thought!"
and the last reason:
4. we didn't know this at the time but we went on the one day the london teachers decided to go on strike. so, you guessed it. what's a great activity for a forced day off from school? a stroll through the natural history museum.

we waited in the queue that snaked its way out of the main doors almost all the way to the underground station more than a block away. that should have alerted me to the chaos that waited for us inside the building. and chaos it was. i didn't know i suffered from claustrophobic until that day. literally. we were shunted along by a sea of people. we could hardly even look at the exhibits. i was thankful i didn't bring the buggy with me as there was no way i could have manuouvered a stroller through that madness. as it was, samuel was stuck to my back (in the carrier, obviously), crying half the time because he wanted to get down and crawl for a bit. but there wasn't even a small corner of a room where i wasn't worried he would get absorbed into the melee. the phrase wall-to-wall people now has an image attached to it for me.

i had to wait about ten minutes to get a shot that only had MY three kids in it, as opposed to sixteen other kids as well.

not sure what it is about platypus, but they love them!
we did our best to make it fun for the kids, to see the things that interested them. we picked up two rucksacks (that had just been turned in by other kids) that had kid appropriate maps and activities and explorer hats (lucy is wearing one in the top photo). elijah got to see a platypus - a definite highlight. another must-see bit was the escalator that took us up through the centre of the earth. quite exciting for the littles. and even though i was hyperventilating slightly while we were pushed along by the crowds, the kids really did enjoy seeing the amazing dinosaur skeletons and the very life-like tyrannosaurus model.     

so. in all honesty, the visit wasn't THAT terrible. the kids enjoyed themselves, even if we denied them a trip to the gift shop. (another queue just to get into the shop? no thank you.) but i would jump at the chance to go again. as long as it's on a day that the other half of london doesn't decide to go as well.