To Londontown We Went

Last year, during the last weekend in October, Richard and I went to London for our last getaway before our baby was due. This year, unknowingly, we booked the same weekend for the three of us to travel down south for a couple of days in our favorite city. In 2013, we had no idea what we were in for with a baby on the way, but I do know we hoped she would be an easy traveler and that she would just go with the flow. So far, she has proved to be an awesome addition to our travels – both near and far!

We had no real plans for our time in London aside from taking her to Hamley’s and Harrods to check out the toys. She is extremely curious about everything around her, so we were both excited to see how she would react to these two places full of sensory overload. If we had to do it again, we would skip Hamley’s. It was just too crowded.

Harrods toy department, on the other hand, was really enjoyable and just the right amount of hectic. It probably also helped that we got there just as it opened on Sunday, so we avoided a lot of the normal tourist onslaught. Our little lady loved looking around at everything there was to see, and we loved gawking at some of the crazy (expensive) gifts on offer. We actually found her Christmas gift there, which we think she will really enjoy.

After we left the toy shop, we wandered around the children’s clothing department and happened to notice The Disney Café. It was lunch time, so we thought we would give it a go. We really enjoyed it! The food was top notch, which we had expected from a restaurant in Harrods. The girl had a ham and cheese toastie cut into the shape of Mickey Mouse, Richard had a savoury crepe, and I had the mini cheeseburgers (and I was pleasantly surprised when the server asked how I would like them to be cooked). And, imagine my surprise when Richard ordered us a bottle of wine! It was such a nice lunch, and we loved watching our girl (wearing Minnie Mouse ears!) chomp away at her toastie whilst looking around at all of the older kids. She was in her element for sure!

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After leaving Harrods we walked towards Hyde Park Corner to Buckingham Palace and on to St James’s Park. We stopped in St James’s Park because it was time for the girl to be fed. (Yes, she had just eaten, but sister needed her milk!) I plopped down to feed her underneath some fabulous towering trees. When she finished I sat her next to me in the leaves and she was amazed by them. She examined them and played for awhile, and it was fun to just see her taking in the textures and the colors of the leaves. Richard would pick up bunches of leaves and throw them up in the air, which absolutely amused her!

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After leaving the park, we headed to Westminster and crossed the Thames at Westminster Bridge to the Southbank. There is a carousel on the Southbank, so Richard took the girl for a ride. She was unsure when they first sat down on the horse, but after a thorough inspection, she smiled big whilst pointing directly at me stood along the side. (Someone had to look after the pram and our shopping!) She seemed to absolutely love the ride, and Richard laughed the entire way around. And me? I could not stop smiling! I love those unexpected moments that we share when we are all together.

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After the carousel ride, we decided it was time to call it a day (plus we had to get back to watch the Strictly Come Dancing results), so we set off walking back to Islington. Once we were near the hotel, I happened to spot an advertisement for Chipotle, and it was all I could think about since it has been ages since I’ve had anything remotely resembling decent Mexican food. We located said restaurant and grabbed takeaway to enjoy in the comforts of our hotel room. The day ended with us plopped on the bed in comfy clothes chowing down on delicious burritos and chips and salsa.

That weekend was made up of so many little moments that were completely unplanned. We smiled a lot and laughed hard and introduced our daughter to a number of new places and experiences. I don’t think either of us could have anticipated how much joy we would get from observing our daughter absorb the world around her. It was great to slow down and really watch her take everything in. This trip allowed us to look back on where we were a year ago – full of wonder about what our daughter would be like and what we would be like as parents – and realize that we are living our life as a family of three in the best way that we know how. And, in my mind, that is a great way to be.

I’m hopeful that we now potentially have a new family tradition of spending an October weekend in London! (What do you think, Richard?)

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Exploring London with Our Girl

A few weeks back, Richard was to be in London for work, so the girl and I tagged along with him. Because we were driving, we decided to stay at the Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford to allow us a place to park and easy access to the tube. It also was convenient for me because there was a Waitrose just below the hotel, which became our go-to for quick and healthy food for me and our girl.

The two days we were there were boiling hot, so I wanted to be sure to enjoy the summer weather but also make sure that the little one was comfortable. So, on the first day, we walked a 5 minutes or so to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park where the London 2012 Olympics were held. We wandered around enjoying the flowers and the buildings until we settled in under the shade of a tree along the river. Our girl and I had a nice little picnic, which resulted in her being covered in strawberry (her favorite food) juice!

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The park was a nice place for us to chill. If you have older kids, there are water fountains that squirt up at various times and it was full of kids running and laughing through the water. There is also a sand and water play area for kids. It was a pleasant surprise to see how much they have transformed the park to cater to families. The thing I wish I had known though is that the Aquatics Centre to open to the public. How cool would it have been for us to swim in the Olympic Pool?! Next time, for sure!

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We walked around the park a few times during our stay and really enjoyed seeing all of the buildings we saw on television. Although we were lucky enough to watch the women’s beach volleyball finals and the women’s marathon during the Olympics, neither of those events took place in the park, so we had never made our way out there until this trip. During our walks though the park, it was always full of people enjoying the weather and the beautiful surroundings. I hope that this area continues to bring people in, and hopefully its proximity to Westfield will help with that.

I definitely recommend checking out Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park if you have some time and are in London. It’s especially great for families. You can access it easily from Stratford Station via the DLR and the Jubilee and Central lines.

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With Westfield having such great access to the tube, our girl and I hopped on the Jubilee line the following day and headed to Green Park, so we could meet up with a friend who works near there. We did a little sightseeing first, and I made sure to take her picture in front of Buckingham Palace. We then headed over to St James Square for a picnic with our friend. It was a great place to get some relief from the heat and escape the busy-ness of the city during the summer.

We had such a lovely time down south that we’re already planning a trip back in autumn over a weekend, so Richard can join us for our jaunts around London.

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A Bloggers Afternoon Tea at Sketch

I’m so glad that Gesci brought this bloggers tea to my attention because it really was an absolutely fab day with some amazing women! You see, Gesci and I wanted to meet up one more time before she moved back to the U.S., so this worked perfectly for us as I was to be in London (again) with the Brit while he was working.

The tea was organized perfectly by Laura at Happy Homemaker UK, who is another US expat living in England with her family. From the minute I emailed Laura to RSVP to the tea, she was so lovely even through the internet, which eased my nerves. Yes, I was admittedly nervous as, up until this point, I was only really familiar with the blogs of Gesci and Selena. And, I had only ever met Gesci in person.

Laura chose Sketch just off of Regent Street in London for the venue. Wow, it really impressed us all – not just the food and tea, but the decor is something that must be seen to be truly appreciated!! We had tea in The Glade, which is a room that makes you feel like you are possibly sat in the forest having tea in Alice in Wonderland.

The crazy cool chandelier in The Glade

Our tea began with a glass of champagne followed by our choice of tea. I decided on the Darjeeling, which was delicious. (It’s so funny to me now that I don’t even second guess putting milk in my tea…remember when I thought that was so weird?!) Then, the true centerpiece of the tea was the lovely little foods arranged on plates and mugs stacked to form a tier. This is such a great idea that I might attempt it when we have people over at some point as a fun way to arrange and display food! And, of course, it wouldn’t be a true tea without scones, jam, and clotted cream. It was all just plain yummy!

Our two-hour tea turned quickly into three hours of non-stop chatter with these ladies. It was a true delight to meet these women. My blog is very small compared to the rest of them, so I felt a little nervous and/or anxious, but blog size did not matter one bit. I felt comfortable having a good old-fashioned natter with them all. We had all styles of blogs represented, so I definitely recommend you check them out because they are just great! I’m excited to follow along with them all now!

From left to right:  Robynne, Liz, Louise, Selena, Belinda, Laura, Sarah (and her littlest little!), Charlotte, me, and Gesci (not pictured is Sarah Jane)

After, we were taken on a tour of some of the other rooms of Sketch, including the awe-inspiring toilets (Gesci explained this, but a bathroom/restroom without a bath/shower is typically referred to as ‘the toilet’ here…this was definitely a difficult one for me to get used to saying as it sounded so abrupt). It truly is a remarkable place! It has been awarded two Michelin stars and 5 AA Rosettes. Maybe, I can talk the Brit into going back with me and possibly trying out The Lecture Room or The Gallery for a meal! Anyway, I’m so glad to have met these women, and I hope we’ll have a chance to catch up again soon! Another big thank you to Laura for arranging the afternoon!

See those pods at the top of the stairs? Those are toilets!

The Gallery with tables and chairs removed for an event

The Swarovski-clad toilets full of mirrors and lights to trick your mind during your time in the toilet

{The Olympics} The Greatest Team Parade

I tagged along with the Brit again as he headed to London for work the week after the Paralympics finished. That Monday just so happened to be The Greatest Team Parade showcasing Team GB’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes. I was lucky enough to experience it with a good friend of mine who was a volunteer during the Olympics. I was the girl longing to steal my friend’s cute and cool purple Games Maker outfit while I was in my uniform of skinny jeans, a black blazer, and ballet flats. (Seriously, click the link and see how fun the purple/orange combo is!)

We staked out a spot right below Trafalgar Square that was just before the parade entered The Mall as it made its way to Buckingham Palace. We could not believe how many people were there and because we were running a little late we were about 20 people back from the parade route. It was still absolutely incredible though because everyone was so excited! Despite being a bit far back, we still were seeing these amazing athletes up close! These are some of the better photos from the tons I took that day.

Check out the people in the windows and climbing the monument!

After the parade completed, there were a few fly overs that got everyone emotional. First, it was the British Airways plane that brought the Olympic Flame from Athens to Cornwall for the start of the Torch Parade earlier this year. It had painted ‘Thank You’ on the under side of the plane, which definitely turned me weepy. Then, some RAF helicopters and aircraft followed, and the final part of the fly over was the Red Arrows that left a trail of red, white, and blue behind them.

My friend then had to head to work, so I wandered down to Green Park and watched the speeches on the big screen given by the Prime Minister David Cameron, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and Princess Anne. It really was an amazing day, and I’m so glad I can look back and say that I was there with a million other people that day in London!

{The Olympics} Women’s Beach Volleyball Finals

In 2011, the lottery for Olympics tickets opened for UK citizens, so the Brit entered for three events:  the Opening Ceremonies, athletics (which included the 100m men’s final), and women’s beach volleyball. We were pretty lucky as he was one of the only people that we actually knew that got tickets through the lottery, and you already know what they were for because of the title of the post. Both of us were excited, especially me knowing there was a chance I could see Team USA in either the bronze or gold medal match!

The day arrived and the weather was absolutely beautiful in London. (The Brit asked me to stress how nice it was since I often talk about how rainy it has been this year…haha!) I had big plans to paint my nails red, white, and blue, but I forgot my nail polish at home, so that didn’t go so well. I wore a blue shirt and the Pennsylvania necklace that the Brit got me for Christmas, so I was country pride, but definitely nowhere near over-the-top and the nails would have been a nice touch; that’s how it goes sometimes!

To get into the venue at Horse Guards Parade, you had to go through airport-style security, which was so seamless and the volunteers directing us and the military completing the security checks were so friendly. The Brit made a comment that airports should take lessons from them…so true!

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Horse Guards Parade constructed from sand!

Once inside, there were loads of places to grab food and drink. And, when I say ‘drink’, I’m not just talking soda, juice, and water; we are talking beer, wine, and champagne! We started out with a couple beers, but when the Brit went back to the bar between the two matches, he came back with 4 glasses of pink champagne! Seeing him walk up the bleachers with those plastic cups of champagne had me in stitches! He still hasn’t told me how much that cost, and I think we’ll keep it that way!

There was a group of English people sat in the row in front of us who were waving US flags and continually yelled ‘yee-haw’ when something good happened. A bit random, definitely…but all in good fun! The atmosphere inside the stadium was brilliant as well. They would play music in between each point, got the wave going quite a few times, and had the crowd involved in various chants and slow to fast clap segments! And, with nearly everyone at least one drink in, it really was like a giant party!

The views from inside the venue were stunning! Check this photo out…

The first match was Brazil v. China for the bronze medal match. Brazil ended up with the win and the bronze medal. It was so exciting to watch and got me really pumped for the gold medal match between both teams from the US. Yes, we were that lucky that we got to see Team USA play Team USA!

I just thought this was a neat shot from when Brazil won the bronze medal.

During time outs and between matches, these people came out to rake the sand and the announcers would crack jokes about the ‘rakers’, who would rake to Benny Hill music. It was brilliant! Here is a photo of the volunteers who were deemed the rakers…

In addition to the rakers, there was some lively entertainment in the form of dancers who even had costume changes between sets. Below, you can see them in their red, white, and blue outfits that they wore throughout the gold medal match.

The start of the gold medal match!

It was fun to not have to pick sides, although the Brit will tell you I was cheering a bit louder for Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings. I attribute that to the fact that I knew this would be their last Olympics, so I wanted them to go out with a bang! We had a good laugh though when we realized all of the British people in attendance were cheering for the other team representing the USA of Jennifer Kessy and April Ross.

It was really an amazing match and both teams played very well, but Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor came out on top. (I don’t have any good photos of the three teams on the podium because we videoed that part, and after I watched it again, it is a very bouncy video and you hear my voice cracking as I scream my lungs out, so I think I’ll keep that on my laptop for now! :)) It really was an incredible experience, particularly getting to hear the Star-Spangled Banner and see the US flag flying high on the gold and silver medal flag poles!

{The Olympics} Women’s Marathon

My posts on the Olympics have been a long time coming, but I wanted to make sure I gave them the full attention they deserved. Here is the first of three….

I’ve mentioned before that this has been a summer to remember here in England, and the Olympics added so much to the memories. We watched both of the Opening Ceremonies from the comfort of our couch. And, both times, I was completely and utterly blown away by the magnificence of the performances. I found myself with tears in my eyes through many moments of it, especially when you see the smiles on the faces of the Olympic and Paralympic athletes. I found myself so moved by the dedication of the athletes as well as by the effort and dedication of the volunteers that went into making those ceremonies possible. I felt so proud to live in this country, that like any other country has it good and bad points, but for these Olympic and Paralympic Games, I saw the United Kingdom, and London especially, really show the world how amazing it is here.

Oddly, I found myself much more connected to the British athletes than the US athletes because I knew the stories of the Team GB athletes. Do not misunderstand me and think I did not cheer my heart out for Team USA because did I ever cheer for my home country! (You should hear my embarrassing yelling on some of the videos we took at the events and the Brit and I had a nice little country rivalry going.) But, because I am in England obviously much more attention was placed on the Team GB athletes, which led to my becoming more emotional than usual as I had two countries to support.

We were so filled with Olympic spirit and wanted to enjoy as much of the Games as we could, so since we were already going to be in London for a few days, we chose to go a bit earlier and catch the women’s marathon. The weather was rainy, but the the vibe was incredible so the rain didn’t seem to phase anyone in the crowd. We set up camp on the Embankment with a view of Big Ben and the London Eye. Our spot also offered us the opportunity to see the runners five times throughout the race, which was pretty amazing.

 

We stood right behind a Hungarian family who had this catchy chant they would shout in Hungarian when their runners went by. I would scream my lungs out for Team USA (even calling Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan by their first names, which led to me being asked if I actually knew them…haha!). And then, the Brit and I would cheer loudly for Team GB. You couldn’t help but yell and clap for the woman who was the last runner. She might have gotten louder cheers than the leaders, and it was so incredible to be part of this group of people from around the world who just wanted to see others succeed. When the runners went by the final time, it started to rain harder so we ducked into Walkabout to dry off, have a drink, and watch the end of the race on the big screen.

It started to brighten up, so we headed toward Covent Garden to meet up with our friend in a pub to watch Andy Murray play Roger Federer. Oh my goodness, what an amazing afternoon because I think every one of us in that pub was imagining being at Wimbledon as we all just screamed and cheered Andy to victory with “Come on, Andy” and “Let’s go, son” filling the air! When that match ended, we of course stayed to watch him play in the doubles final with Laura Robson, so one beer turned to I-don’t-know-how-many beers and we ended up seeing it through to watch Usain Bolt win the 100 meters final. It was a long day, but seriously awesome to be part of the spirit in London!

If you got caught up in the spirit like I did, what was your favorite part of the Olympic and Paralympic Games?

The Great British Summer

What an incredible year to be living in England — the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, England making it to the quarterfinals in the European Cup, Andy Murray in the finals of Wimbledon (oh yes, I was sitting on the couch in tears with the rest of the crowd at Centre Court when he spoke after the match), and…the OLYMPICS!!

According to the BBC website, we are now 14 days from the Opening Ceremonies for London 2012 and the build up here in England has been fun to see. Two Sundays ago, the torch passed through our town. (I know I often refer to ‘our village’, which is where our house is, but the village is just outside of a larger town.)

Also, the day I spent in London over the Brit’s birthday was the same day that the massive Olympic rings were lowered on Tower Bridge. Apparently, I missed seeing the actual lowering of them (and a potential sighting of London mayor, Boris Johnson) by about 15 minutes! However, I was able to grab some photos of them with my phone.

And finally, our Olympic tickets arrived! The Brit was lucky enough to nab tickets to the gold and bronze medal matches for the women’s beach volleyball! I am keeping my fingers crossed for an appearance by the US team in one of those matches! (I have been telling the Brit I’ll be painting my face red, white, and blue if it happens – haha!)

Now, if we could only get the weather to recognize that we are actually in summer….