The morning of the second day found the two of us staring puzzled at the kids at 6.15 am and wondering what we might have done wrong. It could not have happened for a second day the kids to wake up that early!
Well, there was no plan for supermarket and after the usual full-English for the kids, our only option was to take it to the roads. In order to ignite our system and prepare it for another glorious – judging from the cloudless sky – day, we visited another classic location – Nero café next to Kensington High Street. It is the perfect place for a great start of your day. The almost fully glass building begs for the sun to come in and invites you to sample the slow and eternal (or… perpetual!) movement of people, cars, buses, clouds (even rain drops … on other occasions) outside the warmth and conform of your seat.
The carrot cake was again in our selection and a grande cappuccino was a great start!
After an hour of idle mode in the café, we crossed the road, took bus No 9 and headed for Covent Garden.
With the exception of my first year in London when me and a good friend used to try a small café on Long Acre where they used to literary throw the used cups and plates in the washing machine and some other infrequent visits for food (e.g. “underground” Belgos which I sincerely suggest- http://www.belgo.com/restaurant/centraal/ at 50 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LJ) or for buying clothes in the Floral Street, I would generally avoid Covent Garden. I found it extremely touristy and too crowded.
This time, though, I had a good excuse. Visit the Transport Museum. http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/at Covent Garden Piazza, London WC2E 7BB)
I have to confess that during my prior-to-the-trip research on kid-related places of interest, i had some reservations as to how much kids would appreciate it. The fact they go … ballistic when they see a black cab or a red bus would not necessarily mean that they would like it.
Well, we only had to try to find out. And it did not take long.
After paying the … hefty ticket price both kids were given a green card almost the size of an A4 page that had 13 numbers on it and that kids had to punch holes in 13 locations in the museum. It was like a game for the hidden treasure. The kids had to actually look and search for those places (and trust me, as I later found out, those locations were not the so obvious or i-will-definitely-stumble-upon-them and they were difficult to find even for adults).
I cannot find words to describe their joy! They adored. They loved it. They lived the whole experience to the max. They would run from one place to the other with such exhilaration that made me smile with contend that my selection was a good one. Sometimes I wonder that you don’t want much in life but just to see your kids as happy as they can get. The mental and psychological boost you get (just for yourself … not anybody else) is just immense and so self – fulfilling.
I ought not to forget describe the museum also. From the top to the ground floor one sees the evolution of transport in London. Although a relatively small museum kids or adults can easily spend 3 hours there. They can get in replicas of old tubes, hop on cut-in-half modern red buses, pretend they are passengers on old carriages, watch in real-time on a map the location of all buses running in Central London or just play and run around. They can learn and play and definitely this combination is what after all, all museums should offer to their young visitors.
We spent two hours in the museum and then decided to splash some cash on a tourist shop on the other side of the road. I was not feeling proud of this sneaky addition to our itinerary, but we did have to buy a couple of London memorabilia for friends and kids!
It was already 14.00 and it was time for a short trip to memory lane. We left Covent Garden, walked next to King’s College at the Strand where I spent one year and then crossed Waterloo Bridge. As we set foot on the South Bank, I saw on our right the place where I had my MSc graduation ceremony. Under the bridge I spent some time looking at the cafe of BFI Southbank where years ago I had spent many happy and personal moments either sipping a coffee or reading for my exams. I remember some summer weekdays and some odd weekends, getting my books either in the morning or after lunch and spending easily a couple of hours with a cup of coffee in my hand resting eyes on the river and the London skyline making plans for the weekend of plans for life. It was – it will always be – with a bit of a sentiment that I look at these places and I will never forget them. Maybe some time I need to write more on those small pointless to many yet with great personal sentiment places.
Our destination was http://www.foundersarms.co.uk/at 52 Hopton Street, Bankside, London, SE1 9JH. It is a marvellous pub, literary on the river banks that offers spectacular views of the north side of the river (especially during the evening), the highlights being St Pauls directly to the North, Blackfriars Bridge on the left, The Tate on your back, 20 Fenchchurch Street on the North-East and, if you can see it, the Shard on the South-East side, the tallest building in the EU.
Once we entered I got really demotivated. The place was full, people were standing on the bar and I thought that 6 adults with 4 restless kids and two strollers (one with an infant) would find it impossible to find any proper seating. Winning the Lotto may have been easier. In a blink of an eye I realised this configuration was … exactly our configuration and the next thing I wanted to do was rush to the bar, order a pint of lager, drink it while the others were looking for seating and then…bugger off. Fortunately, God did spare us some luck and in less than 10 minutes we found a table that would accommodate all of us. Then it was just a matter of just enjoying the food, the beer, the people around us, the great vistas and the mysterious dusk.
Our late lunch-early dinner was superb. Content with it, we left the pub, we walked friskily – courtesy of the blindingly windy air – to Blackfriars tube and then the District Line took us to Earls Court and our feet back to the hotel.
When composing plans later the day a sense of deza-vu conquered me. Beers later the day…? Why not? To cut a long story short, for a third consecutive night we tried to sample some…local beer. We tried our luck with The Scarsdale and apparently it was just right. We rationalised the fact that we easily found a spot there by saying that a local pub is relatively empty on a Saturday as the locals will choose to go somewhere else to have their drinks. Of course, we might as well been taking rubbish. The truth of the matter is that we ordered and got served in just 5 minutes and in 20 minutes we got a cosy seat by the door. This time we were just two of us because the third guy was aiding (properly chosen word) with his wife’s shopping and you definitely don’t want to ruin a lady’s shopping, especially when abroad, by not being present!
We took it easily, had a couple more pints, shared moments of silence just looking around, did a recap of the day and talked about our last day – tomorrow.
Sunday was a pretty hands-down day. Everything was oriented to our visit to Richmond.
After our quick entry to Holland Park looking for a children playground – which apparently was closed – and our usual coffee at Nero, via Earls Court the District line, via Earl’s Court took us to Richmond. It was the same route I used to take when going to the office and memories of those windy, cold breezy, mornings at 7 am or warm, wine or beer-oriented summer evenings returning from the office zipped through my mind. Not much had changed though and it really felt I never left.
After a walk to the river we waited outside Nandos. https://www.nandos.co.uk/eat/restaurants/richmond, at 2-4 Hill Rise, TW10 6UA. (If you are a …. Chicken guy do try them out).As if it was not difficult for us to find tables in restaurants or coffee shops, in order to spice up the situation and … anxiety we met two good old friends of mine with their families. If you do the simple maths we were 8 adults and 6 kids. When they arrived, we did have a on-the-spot meeting which lasted 3 minutes among the ex-Samsung employees (after all we did have almost two years we last saw each other) and then we tried GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen http://www.gbk.co.uk/location/richmond, 15-17 Hill Rise, Richmond, TW10 6UQ) on the other side of the road to check for tables!
Before entering I was dreading the process of looking for a … part of the restaurant that would suit us. What would happen if it was full? How would the kids behave? How would we “move” 15 humans to another restaurant if this were full or unsuitable. Still, deep down I knew that my … strategically selected time to meet, 12.00, even for UK Sunday standards would ensure easy access to tables. I did not need to worry more. In 5 minutes we were allocated one quarter of the … quarter-empty restaurant and I sighted with relief.
The kids sat on a table alone and the grown-ups had another for themselves. I had not seen my friends for much time and it was a good chance to catch up. Sometimes of course you cannot do a proper catch up in 2-3 hours so we tried spontaneous issues on each one’s life. It was nice to still keep in touch with them even 10 years after I had left London. It is nice to still have some good friends in the UK.
The food was also great. Although I am not a great fun of burgers (you never know what’s in there) I went for The Don for 9.95 and a bottled beer. Mind you, there is also a kids’ menu and it was quite good! And by the way, make sure you download the GBK app on your mobile. While we were there, there as an offer that if you download the app you get two burgers for 10 GBP.
We ate our burgers, sipped our beer, chatted and had fun or stayed silent not knowing what really to say after so many years and after so many things that had happened in between and then took a stroll towards the tube station. At Kings Street we turned left and walked for a while in the Richmond Green, next to a pub that on the spot I remembered that in 2004 I had watched this spectacular semi-final of Euro 2004 between Greece and the Czech Republic! I smiled. Every corner is a memory! Then we said goodbye and it was high time to return back.
At 16.00 we were back at the hotel. We relaxed, freshened up and went out again. We walked in the area, and then as our final night had to finish in style we chose the Prince of Wales (http://www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/prince-of-wales-kensington/c1198/ at W8 4EP) for a final fish-and-chips dish and some pints of Guinness. Suggestion! Wait until the one and single semi-circular cosy table next to the window is free and then just relax and enjoy your time there!
It was 21.00 and our time in London was running out. Kids were …sent to sleep and then it was time for us to spend some time to recap this beautiful trip to London.
We have travelled as a family or as a couple in London for 10 times and yet every time there, we do different stuff, while make time to yet visit classic places and old neighbourhoods. A trip to London is not so much a trip to a beloved destination. It is not a trip to … London. It is not a trip to one of the most beautiful and multicultural cities in the world. It is not a trip to the capital of the UK. It is and it feels like a trip home. I never brag about or make a big fuss about it. I just say I am returning home for a bit of a trip to memory lane, some pints, a couple of good dinners and lunches while seeing good friends. It is nothing more nothing less. This time, even though I was … informally celebrating 10 years away from … home, I missed many locations I wanted to visit like my old neighbourhoods, as I always used to do, (Russel Square, Clapham, Vauxhall). Even though they have nothing… new to offer they have so many memories to freshen up.
The next day the plane took us back to Greece. As I always say once a trip is over you have to start discussing and planning the next one.
While the plane was crossing the English Channel, I realised I was informally making plans for the next visit there. LBF 2016 or 2017 and definitely the 20-year reunion of the International Hall gang that would need to be slowly organised. Bringing in London people from the four corners of the world requires a good planning!
Goodbye London – until we meet again.