london in five days (IV)

In my sleepy daze, I somewhat recall the sound of heavy rain sometime in the early hours of the morning. By the time I woke, it was dry and hot again and we were all set for our last full day in London. At 34°C, it was slated to be the hottest day of the heatwave (and I’m willing to guess, of the year too) and what better way than to spend part of it at Hyde Park?

The night before, I’d done some last-minute research to see if there was going to be anything happening in London for Canada Day. When we first made plans to visit London, we’d done so with the intention of being there for Canada Day, as we wanted to be part of the huge annual bash at Trafalgar Square. Unfortunately, after our plans had become concrete, I learnt that the celebration had since been cancelled — due to funding issues, there’d been nothing last year and once again, there’d be nothing this year. Boo!

Anyhow, through a quick search, I found out that the Canadian High Commission was having an informal open house with cake and juice and doing tours. We were too late for the tours, which had sold out, but we thought we could at least drop in to check it out. And Raspberry, of course, would certainly love cake and juice.

Our initial plans were to go to Hyde Park and the nearby museums, but we figured that we’d able to head to the High Commission first and then carry on as planned. So after dropping in at the post office to buy the correct stamps for my postcards, we hopped the tube to Embankment.

For some reason, I remember this particular station from my last trip to London. Despite having been renovated in the past eleven years, I remember the steps leading into the station, the layout of the turnstiles and the florist outside the station. I also remember a guy carrying some flowers outside the station and I wanted to photograph him, but I believe it was raining and I didn’t. Having these memories triggered, I was excited to see them all again (well, except for the guy with the flowers).

We walked over to Trafalgar Square from the station. Perhaps because it was late morning, it was busy, with not only tourists but office workers. For some reason, everything about this route seemed especially interesting, even though it was mostly lots of places selling food.

This was the third vintage double-decker bus I saw in my five days. How cool is it that they’re still in service?

Upon arriving at Canada House, we noticed the giant frame by the entrance and Raspberry rushed to have her picture taken. They gave her a flag too, which made her happy. Before we left the apartment, she’d wanted to draw the Canadian flag on her arms and legs, but because we were in a rush to get out, she packed her pen with her (unfortunately, she forgot her red pen and only brought purple). There was no opportunity for her to stop and tattoo herself, so I think she was glad to have the flag to show her national pride.

We overheard that you could only enter the building if you’d booked the tour. I suppose this meant that the informal open house extended to only people then. We asked the security guard at the gallery but they pretty much said the same thing. Ahead of us were other Canadians, disgruntled that their tax dollars were being spent preventing them from enjoying a Canada Day celebration.

Incidentally, it’s easy to spot Canadians on July 1st — they’re the ones wearing either red and white, have a maple leaf somewhere on their clothing, or are wielding the flag. One lady I saw wore a red-and-white lei and another had many tiny flag pins stuck to her bag. Needless to say, around Canada House, there were quite a few Canadians proudly wearing their colours. As I often am here in the UK, I got excited seeing fellow Canadians, although I tend to keep this excitement to myself. Out of the four of us, I was the only one with some semblance of red and white in my outfit (it was half-intentional). Lucas had forgotten to bring more than two shirts and Raspberry said her dress, which had some pink and brown, was a little close to red.

It sucked that we weren’t doing anything for Canada Day but life goes on. Lucas wanted to continue his search for the sew-on flag, so he went off to have a quick browse around while we stayed in Trafalgar Square. Raspberry and Ares attempted to chase all of three pigeons, none of who seemed to fazed by it. [I’ve since found out that laws banning the feeding of the pigeons, as well as the introduction of hawks, have kept the pigeons away.] Being a hot day, Raspberry wanted to dip her hand into the fountain, as she’d done before. Despite it being earlier in the day than the last time, the fountain looked grosser than before, and after a quick swish around, I suggested that we should do something else.

So we climbed the plinth. Raspberry went first and I lifted Ares up to her before I climbed up myself. It’s been years since I last had to hoist myself up to that height and I was feeling mighty self-conscious that I wouldn’t make it and crumble in a pathetic heap on the ground. Thankfully, I made it and quite enjoyed the view from up there. Ares running around made me a touch nervous though and I was relieved when I saw Lucas returning. He even helped me down too, which I was thoroughly grateful for, as it’s also been years since I last jumped from a height taller than myself (man, I don’t do anything fun anymore, do I?!).

Raspberry was thirsty but discovered that no water came out of this fountain.

We popped into the National Gallery to refill our water bottles and use the bathroom. Enroute, two Asian girls asked Lucas to take their picture in front of Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery. He shrugged but I obliged and I was briefly entrusted with one of the new Fuji manual point-and-shoot cameras that look wonderfully retro. It felt strange to hold a point-and-shoot in my hands. I’m not used to framing the picture on an LCD screen, so I took more than the two pictures they asked me to.

Because the usual entrance to the gallery was closed, we had to detour to another entrance. I was so glad for the air-conditioning and the clean bathroom. Our AirBnB apartment is all right, but the bathroom, which comprises of two separate rooms (one with the toilet and the other with the sink and tub), is somewhat old and not in the best shape. Because of this, we thoroughly appreciate clean bathrooms in nice museums.

As we left, crossing the street away from the gallery, Raspberry realized her tiny bear was missing. We had to go all the way back in, back down a large flight of stairs, back to the bathroom, where she found the bear by the sink where she’d washed her hands. We reminded her that her toy was her responsibility and we couldn’t keep backtracking just to find it over and over again. [Spoiler alert: she lost it later on in the day, when she didn’t know Ares was holding it and he dropped it.]

We had two options to get from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park — we could walk down a main road or take a slightly longer route and cut through a park. Had we been on our own, sans kids, I might’ve opted for the main road. But in the interest of avoiding polluting vehicles, I thought the scenic route would be better. Lucas said that we could go down The Mall, which is the street I said we could walk down to get from Buckingham Palace to Big Ben a couple of days before, except that we didn’t.

Walking under the trees on this particularly hot day proved to be a great idea too. Along the way, we came across soldiers emerging from St James’ Palace. As it turns out, it was the tail end of the the changing of the guard was happening. While Lucas and Raspberry went ahead to have a look, I tried to switch a now-sleeping Ares from my back to my front and accidentally woke him in the process. After the initial cry, he perked up because there were horses to be seen.

We hadn’t realized that the changing of the guard lasted so long and as it seemed, neither did a lot of people. While there were still quite a number of people crowded around Buckingham Palace, the crowds were certainly thinner than they were when we were there at the start of the event. We decided to hang around to watch the remainder of the ceremony. This time, we were able to get right up to the fence, see the guards from afar and watch them leave the palace. Ares was only in it for the horses, which were in the distance, but the rest of us enjoyed the remainder of the guard changing. Thereafter, as we made our way to Hyde Park, we walked alongside the palace, admiring the high wall, and the barbed wire and cameras on top of it, and marvelled at enormous arches and statues amidst some construction. It was cloudy and with all trees, the street just seemed inordinately dark for a summer day.

Maybe because it was time for lunch, or maybe it was the cumulative effects of all that fun we’d been having in London, but we were tired and literally dragging our feet by the time we got to Hyde Park. Lucas walked ahead of us while we lagged behind and he was somewhat irritable by the time we caught up to him.

Luckily, as we approached the lake, there were a stand giving away free ice-cream (I’d had my suspicions that there were free samples of something or other, when I saw a man holding an empty cup). Raspberry and Lucas selected vanilla and for some strange reason, I picked strawberry. Now, I always go for chocolate ice-cream. But when it’s not available (and it usually is, though), I end up being at a loss and freeze (“Oh no! What do I do now?!”). That’s usually as far as I get, because honestly, there’s always chocolate. Except there wasn’t this time. There was strawberry and vanilla. And seriously, out of the three Neopolitan flavours, strawberry is my absolute least favourite. It reminds me too much of the strawberry milk I had in the milk program when I was in Primary One; it tasted like soggy tissue coming through the straw. So why I chose strawberry ice-cream on this particular occasion is seriously beyond me and definitely beyond reason. I might meekly suggest I wanted something with flavour, but really, strawberry?!

But I digress. My ice-cream was getting melty in the unsheltered heat of the day while Raspberry and Lucas’ were hard as rocks (yeah, should’ve gone for vanilla). It was a protein ice-cream and while it was nice on a day like that, it didn’t taste great. Mine had a bitter aftertaste and Lucas said his was chewy. We’d been given 50p off coupons, but those pretty much went straight into recycling. Ares wanted some of the ice-cream too, and as much as I didn’t want this to be his first ever ice-cream experience, it would’ve been inhumane to deny the poor kid something cold on a sweaty day. So Lucas fed him chewy vanilla protein ice-cream as we walked along the lake.

We passed what appeared to be a splash pad and Raspberry got momentarily excited until we realized it was a pool (or a lido, as they call it here). Walking a little further, we came upon the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. We’d planned to go there, but didn’t realize we’d come to it so soon. It was expectedly busy, but we stopped there to have lunch and to cool off.

Raspberry went right in and in her enthusiasm getting her sunhat wet, she splashed a couple of adults who weren’t too pleased . We had to tell her to calm down but she didn’t take too kindly to it and ran off. I stripped Ares down to his diaper and held his hand in the water. However, because it was slippery, he slipped twice, got thoroughly soaked and decided he didn’t want to be in the water any more. Rather, he was content walking around on the dry, yellow grass and eating his puree (the night before, on a trip to Sainsbury’s, we’d picked up a sweet potato, blueberry and apple puree for him, because I thought with his poor eating habits as of late, he might want something different and more interesting than pasta). Lucas fed him while I decided to take a walk (along with many others) all the way around the fountain. I didn’t have to do much to convince Raspberry to join me. It was a bit of a obstacle course, but a refreshingly wet one. Raspberry said she attempted to try to swim but as you might expect, it didn’t work out. She doffed her dress, leaving it among strangers and nearly forgetting about it, much to Lucas’ chagrin. She was having such a good time that she was loath to leave. We’d initially wanted to visit the Princess Diana Memorial Playground at the other end of the park, but decided against it, as there was still a lot we wanted to see and it was a bit out-of-the-way from the rest of our route.

This guy had dinosaur socks!

We saw some Canadians.
There was another family, who had Canadian flags poking out of their bag, and their teenage son was wearing a shirt that just screamed Canadian pride.

We finally made it to the Serpentine Gallery, which was the whole reason we were in Hyde Park, to begin with. Well, to be exact, the Serpentine Pavilion was what we were there for. It’d opened a few days before we arrived in London and I’d shown Raspberry a picture of it in the newspaper. She thought it looked so cool and really wanted to go (I’d already planned on going, whether she liked it or not).

It looked pretty awesome, although I did imagine it being much bigger. It was really hot and stuffy inside though, so we didn’t last long in there. They were selling food and ice-cream in there, but beyond people wandering in and out, no one stayed in there to eat. We sat on the grass by the pavilion, having the lunch that we didn’t have earlier. Ares found a ditch full of little pebbles at the edge of the pavilion and systematically transferred them from one spot to another. I remember Raspberry at this age doing something very similar.

Lucas spied a guy carrying a Whole Foods bag and suspected Whole Food mustn’t be too far, so I asked the staff. The girl was clueless, but the guy in the black Converse shoes was able to give me directions. Lest you think we’re Whole Food junkies, let me state that we just wanted to place to possibly pick up some food for dinner.

The exhibition at the Serpentine didn’t really interest any of us, but I noticed a Duane Hanson exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler gallery that seemed way more interesting. Lucas was game, so off we went, across the bridge to the other gallery.

Lucas really enjoyed the exhibition, as he enjoys hyperrealistic sculptural pieces (such as those of Ron Mueck, whose work we saw in Ottawa). He took his time with the pieces and every time I saw him, he’d ask me if I’d noticed a particular detail about one of the sculptures. It was nice to see him enjoying art, as he often looks utterly bored and uninspired the few occasions we go to galleries together.

As expected, Raspberry enjoyed the mist from the fountain outside and it was hard to drag her away from that (clearly, she didn’t get enough water play at the Princess Diana fountain, or at South Bank the day before).

We headed back toward the Serpentine Gallery, as I wanted to pick up a couple of postcards. While Lucas waited outside under a tree, Raspberry helped me pick out one to send to my parents and she picked out two for herself too. Then, it was off to Kensington so we could check out the museums.

Lucas and I were blown away by how nice it was in Kensington. I mean, a portion of the actual road itself was paved with brick, rather than asphalt. And of course, we saw lots of fancy cars. Lucas made the comment how a Lexus is probably considered a low-end car by the people living there. Ha.

Our original plan was to go to the Natural History Museum, since we’re all into animals but we passed the Science Museum first and Raspberry said she wanted to do that, so we went in, thinking we wouldn’t spend an extremely long time there… except that, we did.

We picked a couple of sections to look at — Veterinary History (because Raspberry says she wants to be a vet); The Science and Art of Medicine; and Glimpses of Medical History (do you see a theme here?). The veterinary history area was tiny and seemed to be focused solely on horses for whatever reason (perhaps because they were used so much back in the day?). We breezed through that quite quickly. In the Science and Art of Medicine section, I was reminded how I was in that exact same place in 2004. I couldn’t tell you if anything’s changed, but I certainly remember the layout. There was a lot of information in that section, so we had to skip a lot of it. Besides, the kid was more interested in contemporary medicine rather than that in ancient times (ie. Egyptian or Roman). She was interested in some of the scenes in the medical history section but the darkened room and some of the mannequins freaked her out, so she didn’t look at every single exhibit there.

We thought we’d go to the Natural History Museum right after, but she wanted to look at the flight simulators, which we’d passed on our way to the elevators to all the medical exhibits. Ares had just woken from his nap, so I stayed on a bench to nurse him, thinking Lucas and Raspberry wouldn’t be very long. As the minutes crept by with neither of them in sight, I went in search of them, to find that they were having a ball with the interactive exhibits in the Launchpad. We thought we’d still be able to make it to the Natural History Museum, but after a while, I reasoned that we were all having fun so it’d be ridiculous to tear us all away from this, just so we could have barely an hour looking at animals. So we stayed.

This was one of my favourite exhibits (and not because it felt so nice on a sweltering day),
whereby you spray water on a cooling table and as it rapidly turns to ice, you can see the crystals forming under a magnifying glass.

Raspberry had such a great time at this activity, involving little plastic beads, a hang-cranked conveyor belt of sorts and a production line. There were all these kids working together to transport the beads from one area to another, in a continuous loop. They were able each take on a task and carry it out with a goal in mind. Raspberry worked with these North American girls, even offering the use of her sunhat to collect the beads (what an ingenious idea). When the girls’ moms came over to take a picture of their kids at work, they said “smile!” and Raspberry looked up with the biggest, cheesiest grin. I don’t think the moms were too impressed, as I overheard them saying, “…there’s always one kid…” Maybe they weren’t referring to Raspberry. Who knows? As we were heading toward the elevator later and we ran into the girls again, they all enthusiastically said goodbye to each other.

I was really hoping to sneak a quick glimpse at the Victoria and Albert Museum after we left the Science Museum (at closing time, nonetheless) but alas, the security guard said they’d closed just ten minutes before. I was crestfallen, but honestly, I really should’ve known better.

With our day coming to a close, we decided to try to track down Whole Foods, where we thought we might pick up some food to make dinner. The previous night, I’d researched and marked out on the map some Lebanese restaurants near us. Aurelie had previously mentioned that there was a great Lebanese place near the Natural History Museum, except that she didn’t know its name, and Googling didn’t really bring anything up. We wanted to have a meal out, but ultimately agreed that it probably should be lunch the following day, since we were going to be on the train home right after, so we’d want a good meal.

So we walked into South Kensington, walking past lots of restaurants, trying to track down Whole Foods based on the guy at the gallery’s directions (which, I’ll admit, I didn’t entirely remember by this point). It looked like there were lots of cool places to eat, but all likely (and sadly) out of our budget. As we passed one restaurant, I could’ve sworn a girl I saw sitting by the window looked just like one of these twins. It was only a glimpse but hey, it could very well have been.

With no Whole Foods in sight, Lucas popped into a convenience store to ask for directions and when he returned with them (it’s the next tube stop, which was quite a walk away), I double-checked by asking at a bakery, which pretty much confirmed it. We didn’t really have a Plan B, so we thought we’d just go for it and make the trek.

It was a long, sticky trek as we walked west, the evening sun beating down on us. We passed Kensington Gardens and mused how we were possibly quite close to where Prince William lives, although we weren’t sure where. Lucas pointed out that this might be an entrance to the palace, and what do you know? He was right.

We were much relieved when Whole Foods came into sight, and oh, the air-conditioned bliss! Standing at three floors, we were quite taken by how large it was. We walked around, with nothing really piquing our interest for dinner. When we first walked in, I’d seen a mention of a burrito bar, so we thought of going for that. Three burritos and one carton of chocolate soy milk later, we’d satisfied our hunger, and Raspberry was thrilled that we’d eaten out. In hindsight, we could’ve saved ourselves a lot of walking and just gone to one of the Lebanese restaurants I’d marked on the map, but I don’t think we really knew we were going to eat out until we actually got there.

An entrance just for the ladies? You don’t say.

We took the tube back, from High Street Kensington, with a rather extended layover at Tower Hill. I nursed a somewhat wiggly Ares on the train and Lucas whispered that there’d been a woman who couldn’t stop staring at me. Hmm. As usual, Ares made friends on the train, and I was glad for a bit of a breather while Lucas entertained him.

Our last full day in London ended with a full moon. While I thought it was kinda nice, Raspberry was worried about the werewolves coming to get her and despite all assurances from Lucas (“werewolves don’t get people who are tucked in bed” and so on), her mind was stuck on the mythical canines and wouldn’t let her rest.

After she finally did, we were startled by someone buzzing the intercom and banging repeatedly on the door. Unsure of who it might be and somewhat suspect of the neighbourhood, we didn’t want to answer it (our one flatmate had gone to sleep and we were the only other ones there). It wasn’t until I got a text from our host, asking us if we could let some new AirBnB guests in, that we thought it safe enough to open the door. Well, Lucas did, and the female half of the couple was rather displeased. Ah well. With that, our fourth day in London drew to a close.


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