It probably says something about your blogging frequency if you take more time to blog about a vacation than you actually spent vacationing! Anyway, here goes the third and final instalment of our London holiday (Part 1 and Part 2, for those interested in the earlier instalments in the series).
Day Eleven: Bringing in Year Three in London
This was the first birthday when Ayaan actually understood the concept of a birthday and absorbed the fact that he was now tuh-lee (still can’t say his Rs) years old.
We spent most of the morning at the Hamleys at Regent Street. We started off by telling Ayaan that he could pick the toys he wanted as his birthday presents. Bad idea! The kid went berserk and filled three of those big store bags with a whole bunch of stuff, some of it downright silly. So towards the end, Jai took him off for a walk and we filtered the toys down based on whether they were worth the cost, age appropriateness and stuff that we wouldn’t find back in India. And then we split the toys between us, my mother and my brother for who would gift Ayaan what and went ahead and paid for them. And then ran like hell out of the store before Ayaan could realise the extent to which we had decimated his toy selection. Thankfully, there was no tantrum and he really enjoyed his few hours at the shop. I think he would have happily spent hours more there but there were the minor matters of our rumbling stomachs and sagging spirits after two hours of following his majesty around with bags laden with his choices. Here’s a picture of the brother and the husband taking a break on the strategically placed giant toy elephant, that kind of says it all...
We had lunch at an average-ish tapas place on Regent Street. And then I decided to stay back in Oxford Street and shop for a bit while the rest of them headed home for a nap. The shopping was pretty disappointing in the end because I never ended up buying anything (unless you count the pack of diapers I picked up for Ayaan from Boots because I surely do not). There was nothing that I REALLY liked and while there some nice enough things here and there, they were so over-priced and not at all now-here’s-something-I’d-never-get-back home that I just browsed till it was time to go home. Only to realise that there was a looooong line waiting to get into the Oxford Street tube station. So decided to ditch the going home plan and meet the folks directly at the venue for the birthday party.
The birthday party itself was a small affair. We don’t know too many people in London so it was just us, my cousin and her husband, three friends and one two-year old kid. On 30in2005’s excellent recommendation, we booked a table at this restaurant called Giraffe. It was perfect because a totally kiddy place would not have worked since there were way more adults than kids and this place serves normal, adult food and has a reasonably non-kiddish ambience. Plus there was alcohol so we all tanked up on our beers and margaritas. At the same time, there were also some really nice kiddy touches – they have a special kids menu, they did up our table with loads of balloons since we had told them it was a birthday celebration and they have a big basket of children’s books to amuse the little ones.
My mother sponsored a Mickey Mouse cake that cost as much as I am likely to spend on a decade worth of birthday cakes in India. It started off being a Noddy cake, but when we took Ayaan to the shop he insisted that he wanted the seriously ugly Teletubbies cake instead. The person most upset by this was the brother who then spent the better part of a week trying to get Ayaan to reverse his decision. Finally Ayaan decided that the pressure was too much and so when my brother asked him for the millionth time whether he wanted the Noddy cake or the Teletubbies cake, he firmly decided that it was to be neither and then refused to budge from his new decision of the Mickey Mouse cake. So the Mickey Mouse cake it was!
Overall, I think a good time was had by all. The kids largely ignored each other but were mostly well-entertained and tantrum-free thanks to the giraffe-shaped stirrers, the books from the basket and the sound-and-lights top that Ayaan was gifted by one of our friends.
Day Twelve: Tower of London
We continued our adventures with the London Walks and headed towards the Tower of London. I think this was the most disappointing of the walks probably because we were visiting an organised tourist site rather the more unstructured agenda of the other walks and so the value add was minimal. I think the Tower can be done just as well without the walking guides because almost everything is accompanied with detailed signs. And I found myself looking wistfully at the walks being led by the Beefeaters – they just looked like they were more authentic and they also included tours inside some of the buildings, while our guide just showed us everything from outside and then left us to explore the inside rooms for ourselves…
But it was an interesting morning overall with the high point being getting a dekho at the famous Kohinoor diamond, which was actually one of the smallest diamonds on display. We also saw the rest of the crown jewels, the arms and ammunition section (more Jai’s scene than mine so I rested my tired feet while he peered at all the stuff on display) and the prisoner’s tower where they still have graffiti on the wall from the prisoners.
After a late but very hearty lunch of noodles at Wagamama, I went back to haunting Oxford Street. This time around I had some more success though and managed to pick up a lovely white sequinned top from Monsoon, some red ballerinas from Clarks (and no, this myth is so not true!)...
Day Twelve: Keeping a Date with Time
We headed off down the Thames to Greenwhich, which again we did with the London Walks people. It was really good because the guide gave us a lot of background and history and we got to see a beautiful chapel as well as the Queen’s House as a part of the walk. He also timed the walk so that we were able to set out watches to the dropping of the ball on the observatory which happens only once a day at the precise hour of 1 p.m.
After the walk ended, we had a quick lunch and then waked up the hill to the observatory where we proceeded to do the touristy thing and snap pictures of ourselves on the Greenwhich Meantime line. Now the cool thing is to usually stand in front of it (but there was a long queue for that) and with one foot planted on either side of it (but with my obsession with punctuality, that didn’t seem right either), so I went with this…
Please notice the new red shoes, which by the way are a tad too tight and were the worst thing I could have worn for a day of walking but they went so well with my red top!
After a brief visit to the Maritime Museum, we headed over to Covent Garden where we sat on the pavement and watched a street performance. Then I left Jai there to watch Lion King (he finally changed his mind about not wanting to watch any musicals) and headed over to meet my brother to watch The Phantom of the Opera. I had wanted to watch this one way back when I was sixteen and in London for the summer but the show was totally sold out for months. But I did get hold of the music and even have it on my iPod so this was definitely one musical that I HAD to see. And it totally lived up to my expectations – the music was mind-blowing and the sets were nothing short of magnificent! Of the four musicals that I saw, this one was clearly the one that I loved the most!
We met up with Jai after the play and began the hunt for a place to eat dinner. And by sheer chance, we managed to stumble upon a really good and authentic Chinese restaurant. Now I had heard how the Chinese food in India was nothing like Chinese food so I was quite keen to try the real stuff. And to further polish my chopstick-using skills. It was pretty yummy and the big difference was the level of oil and spice compared to what we eat here but other than no big surprises.
Day Thirteen: Some more shopping
Given a pretty hectic schedule in the past few days, I decided to take it a little easy in the morning. So while the mother and Jai took Ayaan off to Hyde Park, I lounged around, watched some TV, cleared up the mess and packed one of our two big bags so that everything would not be left to the last minute. Finally left home only around lunch time and headed to the neighbourhood ELC to pick up toys for an assortment of Ayaan’s cousins and friends. Then I headed over to Marks & Spencer where I happily browsed for a couple of hours, stocked up my annual supply of lingerie, bought gifts for the maids and some clothes for Ayaan. I went home for a bit but only to bully my husband and brother back to Oxford Street with me. First, we went to buy a pair of sneakers for Jai (he has giant feet and we struggle to get good shoes for him in India) and then to the Apple shop to choose an iPod Touch as a gift for my brother. He kept cribbing about how it was too expensive and how he wanted to think about it so we left without buying it.
After catching a pint of beer at a typical British pub nearby, we headed off to meet my mother and Ayaan for dinner. In the spirit of continued experimentation with cuisines, we decided to eat at an Eritrean restaurant called Mosob, recommended to us by our cousin. It was one of my most interesting meals in London. To start with, I didn’t even know of the existence of a country called Eritrea and secondly, the experience was so different from anything I expected. They believe in 'communal eating' and so everyone eats out of the same plate. The plate itself is much like a big thali, lined with a typical Eritrean bread called Injera (closest thing to it that I have ever eaten would be a dosa). They then serve the main dishes on top of the Injera and you eat it much like you would eat a chapatti – with your hands. Very, very delicious and a lot like Indian food in terms of the general flavours and spice levels but different enough to keep it very interesting. The spice bothered Ayaan though and this was the first and only meal in London that he gave us trouble with... guess you can’t win them all.
Day Fourteen: The end of a holiday
I decided that the brother needed to be gifted the iPod Touch whether he liked it or not so after packing some more, I headed to Regent Street to buy it. Only to find that my credit card was maxed out (!) and the debit card was getting declined as well. I called up Jai who then did an online transfer of funds to the debit card account and ten minutes later, voila! It worked! Another reason to love the internet!
The rest of the gang had meanwhile gone off to get in a last look at Ayaan’s favourite haunt in London – Hyde Park, of course – and to do his favourite thing – feeding the ducks. And my brother clicked this picture there which I think is my favourite picture from the trip…
We all reconvened at Harrods for some window shopping because that is the only kind of shopping the likes of us can afford to do there (we saw watches priced in excess of £100,000!). I have been there before but I am always awestruck at the sheer opulence of the place. It is much too over-the-top to suit my tastes but an interesting experience nonetheless. The coolest part of the experience were the Egyptian style escalators and the section that sells archaeological items like fossils and a mammoth’s tusk up for sale (prohibitively priced of course).
We came home, packed all the final stuff, squeezed all the bags shut and left for the airport. The journey started pretty inauspiciously since just when we reached the airport, Ayaan proceeded to throw up – splattering not just himself but also my T-shirt and shoes. I had a change of clothes for him but none for myself so despite a determined scrub in the loo, I spent the rest of the journey smelling faintly of vomit. (Note to self: carry extra clothes for self in accessible hand luggage when travelling with the brat).
The journey itself was much better than the Mumbai – London one. After the meal service, I was able to get Ayaan to drift off to sleep. And though he woke up a couple of times because he wasn’t entirely comfortable, he was easily persuaded to fall asleep again. I also dozed in fits and spurts till it was almost breakfast time.
And with that, this long-winded account of our first international holiday with the brat comes to an end. We came back to a couple of days of chaos since the nanny took a couple of extra days of leave due to a death in her family. But somehow managed to get the house settled, the groceries bought and the suitcases unpacked. Ayaan showed signs of jetlag for a week (sleeping only by eleven and getting up at nine) but he slowly adjusted and was back to his old routine just in time for school. Life goes on…