Jeff and I went to London! It’s kind of old news by now (nearly a month ago) so I need to document it before it gets too packed away in my cluttered memory.
I used to travel a lot. My passport was packed, barely any room for new stamps and visas. Traveling and international adventure was what I lived for, it became a huge part of my identify. And then I had kids, and the farthest I got was an occasional trip to Utah, or California, or maybe Puerto Rico.
When all the stars aligned (enough frequent flyer miles for a free ticket for me, my dear mom willing to come and watch the kids) and I got to piggyback on a business trip of Jeff’s to London I was giddy with excitement. When I got to the airport and handed my brand spanking new passport to the security guy he looked at it and informed me that I had to sign it. Something in the way he looked at me and my squeaky clean, unsigned passport made me realize that he thought I was a first time traveler. For some egotistical reason I longed for my old worn out passport to show off who I really was.
I thought about this interaction and my reaction to it as we sat on the tarmac (yes….I actually got to THINK about something besides how to manage my children and the annoyed passengers around me…..oh the glory of traveling without kids!). I let my old passport expire when I had Hazel. I didn’t even think about renewing it. I was going on a whole different trip altogether, living all kinds of different adventures. Babies and Birth and Raising little People adventures. To be truthful, these “mommy” and “family” adventures are what I dreamed about way back when while I was walking the crammed streets in India or working in a little village in the middle of nowhere on the other side of the world. As I sat on the airplane I realized that if I had a Mom passport it would be chock-full of all kinds of visas and stamps indicating all the adventures I’ve lived through and learned from through my journey into motherhood. It was a good feeling. It made me feel at ease about where I am in my life right now. Totally content and utterly giddy to just take a trip to London when I get the chance.
On to London. London was fabulous. I have to say, all that love of travel and new cultures and adventures just flooded back into me the second I stepped off the plane. Actually, it rushed right in the second I got onto that huge plane filled with people from all over the world.
London is just an amazing place. I love how timeless it is, how ancient it is compared with anything in the US. But also how modern and quirky it is. Such a great juxtaposition of old and new. I was surprised at how foreign it felt. Sure, I could speak the language, but the culture is so different from my little world in Boston.
Jeff and I flew separately (he had to go up to Leeds for some business until Saturday night). I got in on Friday morning. I loved the challenge of navigating a new city and transport system. I slowly made my way to Liverpool station, exiting at a few other stations to just kind of see what was there (lots of old cool stuff everywhere that probably looked pretty normal to everyone but me). At Liverpool station I sat and watched people and tried to figure out the train schedule so that I could meet up with my best friend in the world, Amy. We’ve been best friends since I was 3. She has lived in London for 4 years now and I’ve been dying to go and visit her to see where she lives and what her life is like. It was dreamy seeing such a familiar face that I love so dearly in the middle of that crowded train station. She had got a babysitter to watch her three girls and we went out, headed for an awesome day together in the city.
We dropped our stuff at her husband’s work and headed for a fancy restaurant for lunch. I have to say, London has come a LONG way in terms of good food since I lived there back in 6th grade (not that I was too big a coinsure of good food back then). My stomach was so happy for the entire trip.
We talked and talked and talked. We walked around the financial district and wandered through Spitalfields Market. We made our way over to St. Paul's Cathedral in time for Evensong. We sat and marveled at the beauty of that cathedral and we looked up “Invisible Woman” on Amy’s blackberry and read it while we were waiting for the service to start (both of us were in tears by the end). The service was so calming and peaceful (maybe it was a bit of jetlag too) but I just felt totally content. After the service we walked over to the Globe theatre and along the Themes. We met up with Amy’s husband Rob and went through the Tate Modern (art museum). It was great. I love modern art, not because I think it’s all aesthetically pleasing, but boy is it interesting. Rob and Amy and I decided that this was our favorite piece there. I know, we’re a bit strange. You don’t have to look at it closely if you don’t want to. This was one of 4 HUGE photos up on the wall. They were all images of women with their babies right after they’d given birth. There was something about how realistic they were that we all really liked. I think real birth is beautiful and too often we try to make it something that it’s not….or at least we don’t portray all of it as honestly because we’re afraid. Sure, parts of it aren’t that great, but those yucky parts are part of what makes it so beautiful altogether. I also thought it was hilarious to see that blue icepack and the disposable underwear. And, maybe the mail reason why we liked the images were that it was HYSTERICAL to watch peoples’ reactions as they walked into the room. (I think Jeff might be appalled by the picture and my commentary) After the Tate we walked back over the river and went to a hopping’ Mexican place for dinner.
We spent Saturday doing what I most wanted to do on my trip: experiencing Amy’s life in her little suburb town of Chelmsford. I loved seeing how she lives, where she walks, where she shops and what her life is like. I loved being with her kids without my own around, I really got to know them in a different way. It’s crazy how much easier it is to enjoy other peoples kids when you’re not worried about corralling your own. Ames and Rob live like British people and I love that. They drive on the other side of the road (thank goodness). They have a charming old house. They walk and bike to school and to the village center on little footpaths. They have a tiny half size fridge that can’t fit big huge Costco abundance in it so Amy shops often….the way it’s supposed to be done. Ames took me to her farm store which I fell in love with. It was crammed with all kinds of fresh organic vegetables and jams and treats. You could even buy frozen chocolate croissants and cook them at home (which of course we did…who can resist chocolate croissants right out of the oven?) I love these foot paths. They remind me of the foot paths I walked to school on everyday in sixth grade when I lived in England. I love Amy’s eldest, Esther. Just like me, she can’t walk past a beautiful leaf without picking it up and bringing it home. And that Marta (above) is as funny as they come. She kept me laughing the whole time. And oh, that Mila….we’re going to do our darndest to get her to marry Charlie. For now, whenever I mentioned him she’d just say, in her perfect British accent, “Charlie bit my finger!” Ames and I made our way into London in the late afternoon to meet up with Jeff who was done working. We walked around Covent Gardens and saw some street performers before meeting up with Rob to go eat Indian food. You really can’t go to London without eating Indian food. It’s the best Indian food in the world.
On Sunday morning we went to Stake Conference for church with Amy and Rob. Afterwards we headed to Cambridge. I don’t remember every going to Cambridge, I’m sure it’s something even I’d remember if I’d been before. It was really pretty incredible. So old and majestic. And, a photographer’s dream.
We had a great picnic lunch while the girls jumped in leaves and I took way too many pictures. We spent the whole afternoon walking around Cambridge. These pictures kind of say it much better than I could. It’s really an amazing place (and Amy’s kids are amazingly beautiful). Don’t you LOVE this guy’s outfit! You really can get away with wearing anything in that country. When I landed back in Philly on Tuesday everyone looked so conformist and dull compared with the flare and style of London. I think this is the only picture Jeff and I took together on this entire vacation.
We Jeff needs to get better at that.I’m so thrilled that Amy married someone who Jeff likes so completely. Rob is so great to be around and so stimulating to talk to. Jeff loves him.
On Monday Ames took her kids out of school and we all headed into London together. We did the big tourist walk from Knightsbridge to Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square to Kings cross. We stopped in Harrods to buy Turkish Delight. We ate lunch right in Trafalgar Square and climbed on the lions. We watched someone important come out of Buckingham Palace and load into a real carriage drawn by royal looking horses. We did some shopping (which Jeff didn’t exactly love, but tolerated very nicely).
In the late afternoon I said a sad goodbye to Ames and her kids and went to meet up with Jeff at the London Eye (he had abandoned the shopping part of the day to go and catch a quick glimpse through the Imperial War Museum.)
After riding the London Eye (the largest Ferris wheel in the world) and enjoying the amazing London views Jeff and I rushed to the West End to grab some pub fish n’ chips and see Stomp. It was fabulous, full of rhythm and creativity and life. I think the baby inside me could hear what was going on cause he was almost moving to the beat.
We spent the night in London and after a traditional English breakfast of backed beans and eggs (not my favorite meal of the trip) we split up and made our separate ways back home. Jeff in business class and me, blissfully in coach, happy as a lark to have 8 hours on a plane with nothing to do but read my book and watch totally mindless movies.
All in all it was a fabulous trip. Getting that one stamp in my new passport made me ready and excited to come home and add a few more pages to that Mom Passport of mine.
Thanks to Amy and Rob for being such good hosts, to Jeff for his miles, to Bridgespan for needing Jeff to work in England for a few days, and most of all to my mom for watching my kids for 6 whole days (more on that saintly act later).