(Thames River, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben)
Well someone who gets to the meat of the story would start at day one...not me. I just have to reflect on the decisions that led to our wonderful surprise London/Dublin trip. Last May 2009 when we were brainstorming vacation possibilities, nothing major in mind, and finding that my mother-in-law was interested in joining us, I dabbled on-line for the possibilities of stateside and international travel for our family of six. And yes, I must confess to my bloggy buddies: My name in Jenny N. and I am a travel planning junkie. I thoroughly enjoy finding the best deals, insider tips, and smoothing out Point A to Point B details. Well, very quickly I discovered that a traveling family of 6 was a pricey enterprise. And as I was just about to give up the whole idea when inspiration struck, and I found a fantastic airline deal. Dallas (with two connecting flights) to Dublin, where we would change the airline then on to London for less than it would cost us to fly Dallas to St. Louis, MO!I ran the idea past by family and after a pause of surprise there was a definite "Yes!" My mother-in-law (MIL, Lou) had never traveled abroad and was tickled by the God blessed turn in plans. But yikes, my travel planning challenge was to get our itinerary and bookings made before our August travel window.
OUR ITINERARY: Leave for London Aug. 10th with three connecting flights arrive in London(Aug 11-14), then to Dublin (Aug 15-18) Home on the 18th. Whew. Cheaper flights mean connections are one thing: BRUTAL! But I knew my family had dealt with worse the year before, so it was important to emphasize to my dear MIL that our version of budget travel was not pampering in any way. We lugged our own luggage, traveled with the bare minimum (clothing and toiletry wise), walked a lot, and learned local public transportation. She understood....at first. So our very groggy, jet lagged arrival to London a day after we left Dallas was an eye opener for Lou, but expected...uh, somewhat. Trip Advisor was an invaluable resource along with my trusty Rick Steves, and on TA I found nice recommendations for a car shuttle service by a man named Ray Skinner. I had communicated with him via email and even a phone call (I was delighted to hear his chipper Cockney accent) and easily made our reservation and got another great deal compared to the possible costs of train and cab to our London address. We were so comforted by the sight of him standing at the exit from baggage to the transport terminal that I was tempted to run up and hug him. Just like in movies, he held up his hand scrawled sign with our name and gave us a hearty welcome to London. The ride in was about 45 minutes and he was chatty and friendly but I think if you asked everyone, we would agree that we were pretty zoned out. Once we arrived in London proper I had to pinch myself. The architecture, the pubs, the crowds of people walking around, the red double decker buses, and black cabs rushing about....it IS the picture of London from books and movies.
Then we arrived very easily at our apartment...excuse me, our FLAT. And if I wanted to I could write an entire complain-y post about the first flat we attempted to book...they cancelled on us because of all my question asking, two weeks before the trip. And I lost it (mentally speaking), then I prayed that somehow, somewhere our last minute booking would help out some apt. owner as much as us and the Lord graciously provided within a 24 hour period. The owner was understanding and helpful and the flat...oh, me oh, my, a first instance for me of our entire group having their breath taken away. See for yourself: Our view outside this living room balcony was the picture at the top of the post. The flat was on Albert Embankment and only a ten minute walk to Westminster Abbey. THE THAMES RIVER was actually right out our windows. Big Ben! Houses of Parliament! Thank you very much Mr. Sarab Monib for your fantastic flat. Okay here is another pic and then I will try to stop gushing.
We picked rooms and beds, unpacked and refreshed ourselves a bit and then hit the street to our nearest Tube stop: Vauxhall to ride to dinner. Ride what you say? The London Underground (Tube) of course. Now at this juncture it must be said that once again our crew was great on the go. I mean it can be an ordeal anywhere to travel with kids, toddler included, and all the gear (sippee, snacks, diapers, wipes, extra clothes, stroller, and incidentals for our day-long outings away from our flat) anywhere, but in a big, busy, bustling city like London in August and moment to moment unknowns, we charged ahead. And the girls even confessed to me later that getting from place to place and especially riding the Tube, were some of their most favorite times during our trip. Who knew?
But Lou, it must be said, had some trouble with the hustle/bustle. See, three days before our trip, she sprained her ankle. Yikes. She is always an"on the go" person and had looked forward to all our planned walking about Londontown (and I mean a lot of walking), but now walking was not as enjoyable. So the first evening's hoped for walk around Buck House (Buckingham Palace nick name) was crossed off and we headed straight for some traditional eats of good ol' Fish'n'Chips. We went to Seafresh near Victoria Station in central London.
It was declared "delish" by all and I liked that even though WE were tourists, we seemed to be surrounded by locals (the lovely English lilt all around) on that Tuesday evening.
See these "horseys" with Sophia...they proved to be her invaluable travel companions. At every stop they entertained her...Thank you Lord. Lou called them the trip savers. The few months leading up to the trip Sophia had amassed a hefty collection and hand-picked these nine for our exciting trip to London. And they made it home as a complete set through all the flights, stops and restaurants. She was constantly the mother "horsey" making sure each one was stowed in her pack.
After our satisfying meal, I remember that I yearned to go walking near to Buck House. But, my family was in varying degrees of falling over from lack of sleep. So odd. Normally I am the one wanting for energy. Yet, much like our trip before, my boost comes from the fact that there is so much to discover and so little time. Needless to say, we headed back to our flat by bus. David was the adventuresome one in this instance, as I was not familiar with the colored coded routes and stops. Yes, it was the double decker red bus variety and a treat. As is with our family, a nibble of something sweet and a warm drink (coffee for grown ups, tea for the young set) was necessary before we all tucked into our pleasantly comfortable beds.
I was the last for bed and noticed the one draw back to our flat was the constant din of traffic that flowed all through the night. No double paned windows it appeared....and yet.... every night we slept soundly after our long days. On this first night I worried about the noise keeping everyone restless through their needed sleep. Yet, I fell asleep to the sounds of the traffic, the river, the awe of being in the midst of London, the lovely night breeze and the slight night glow of the city that was full of life and ready for us. Ahhh.