Sunday, November 17, 2013

0 Days in Paris, 2 Days in London

You've already heard the tale of our weekend getaway gone wrong in the Peak District. Since we're on a roll with the travel failures, let's move on to our canceled trip to Paris. Could there be anything sadder than that?

The thought of a long weekend in October in my favorite city in the world had been the proverbial carrot on the stick, enticing me to plow through the lonely summer months here and the stress of sending Big Arrow off to school in September. The icing on the cake was that my brother and sister-in-law were visiting us and had never been. I was so excited to experience the city again, and for the first time as a mom, and also with two of my favorite travel companions (they've joined us on trips to Arizona, Chicago, Michigan, and hosted us in Minneapolis).

We had even arranged a babysitter so that the four adults could paint the town red and live it up. I couldn't wait to see the City of Lights at night again.

Alas, as their visit approached, both Arrows became quite ill with a stomach bug. My parents were visiting at the time, and I was glad we hadn't made any travel plans for their visit. In fact, my mom and dad saw a lot more of my living room than they did of England. As they headed back to the U.S., the bug seemed to be lingering well beyond the normal 48-72 hour mark.

I'll spare you most of the yucky details, but it ended up lasting for 14 days. Throughout those two weeks, I refused to give up on Paris. I (somewhat irrationally) thought that leaving our surroundings would miraculously cure them. But when Big Arrow vomited all over the train station parking lot near our house just as the journey began, we were left with no choice but to cancel.

However, we did send our visitors on their way, and they had a magical time. Knowing that they were having a great experience was pretty much the only thing that made me smile that week.

A couple of days later, the boys were finally over whatever had invaded their bodies. Since my husband had taken most of the week off anyway, we had time on our hands. Our suitcases (still packed for Paris!) stared at us longingly. We hopped in the car and we were on our way to London without any thought or pre-planning. And while I scraped together a rough itinerary on our way there that morning, it ended up being a really ideal way to spend a couple of days in the city, so I thought I'd share (as part of my ongoing series of London itinerary suggestions).

Side Note: Our bad luck didn't end with the stomach bug. My camera wasn't working the entire weekend, so you're stuck with a few blurry cell phone pictures in this post. And when we arrived in London, we got word that my husband's grandmother had passed away. There's nothing she valued more than family, so we blinked away the tears and made the best of our time together that weekend, and even proposed a few toasts to her throughout. We hope it's what she would have wanted.

Lodging: We stayed in the Hyde Park area, near the Queensway Tube station. This is a very family-friendly area of the city, with the Princess Diana Memorial Playground as your backyard. There are also plenty of restaurant options, grocery stores, and other conveniences nearby.

Day 1: The forecast called for rain today, so it was time to introduce ourselves to one of the many London museums on my bucket list. We headed for the Science Museum, as I knew both boys would love it and find things suitable for their ages there. This was, afterall, just as much their reward for having survived the last two weeks as it was a trip for my husband and I. It was tremendously crowded that day, but I wrote a post for Anglotopia full of tips and suggestions for making the most of a visit.

You could easily fill an entire day there (and I can see why this place is on many "top 10 things to do in London" lists), but we found by mid-afternoon both boys needed a little fresh air. So we headed to Hyde Park to let them burn off some energy at the playground.

That evening, we took the Tube to Regent Street. I'll confess... we indulged a very strong craving for Mexican food by having dinner at the U.S. restaurant chain Chipotle. I might not be the gal to look to for London restaurant recommendations, because sometimes instead of being a travel guru, I'm just your average expat with a hankering for guacamole.

You can't go to Regent Street with kids without stopping at Hamleys, the famous toy store. I first visited Hamleys on the housing trip my husband and I took back in January. To see my own children's eyes light up in the store, knowing that our move here had in fact become a reality, was (as sappy as this sounds) a dream come true.

Day 2: We awoke the next morning to much better weather. So we loaded up the stroller and wandered the Notting Hill neighborhood, including the Portobello Market held each Saturday morning. It was nice to get into a more quiet, yet still incredibly charming area of the city. We hope to explore more areas like this on subsequent trips to London.

Then it was time to meet up with my brother and sister-in-law, fresh off their early morning Eurostar train from Paris. We were excited to hear about their trip and show them around London. We hopped on the Tube, aimed for Big Ben and Parliament.

We grabbed picnic fixings at the Tesco just outside the Westminster Tube station, and had lunch sitting in the green space of Broad Sanctuary, from where you get perfect views of both Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, the line to get into the Abbey was at least an hour long. So we walked to Buckingham Palace instead.

After admiring the Palace, we grabbed ice cream in Green Park.

From there, we headed to Oxford Circus, and then back for naps at our hotel near Hyde Park. That evening we had dinner at a pub nearby and, once the boys fell asleep, enjoyed a quiet night in our hotel visiting with our guests before they departed for home early the next morning.

No, it wasn't my dream trip to Paris. That will have to wait. (Raincheck, please!) But London as your next best alternative? Life could be much, much worse. In fact, we're already planning our return to the city for a weekend full of Christmas fun in mid-December. I'll share that itinerary too, in case your dream trip is spending the holidays in London.

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