Monday was a "goal day" for Bob's squadron (flight, wing... whatever) and we wanted to do something. I have these "deal tokens" from Tesco worth 20GBP, and I knew they would be enough to get us into the Tower Bridge, which I thought we would all enjoy. So that's what we planned to do. Please realize I use the term "plan" loosely. We thought we knew what we were doing...
We set the alarm for 5:30, but somehow we didn't get up until 6. Bob showered while I woke up the children, and we all dressed, found socks and shoes, and were out of the house at 7. It was sunny, no clouds at all, and already over 50*, so we didn't bring coats. We went up to the shoppette for gas and breakfast. They have Krispy Kreme doughnuts delivered fresh on Monday, and while they aren't our favorite brand when there is a choice, they are pretty good after a year without any doughnuts. So Bob pumped gas and poured windshield washer fluid while I picked out doughnuts and a bag of jerky (I brought fruit from home).
The roads weren't bad as we headed south, but we couldn't help noticing the clouds were gathering. As we neared our exit there was a message on the highway notice sign: "Queues on slip road" (In American that means traffic on the exit ramp). So we got in queue with everybody else headed toward the tube station in Epping. It was 8:15 when we arrived and the parking lot was already full and closed for the day. I'm not sure what everybody else did, as the only other parking lot in town is short term, and the whole place is painted in double stripes so there is no street parking, but what we did was drive on down to Loughton, which also has a tube station and parking lot. The spaces there are tiny, but there were several open, and Bob managed to squeeze the van into one. WooHoo! Here we are! Parking was even cheaper than at Epping.
We got out of the van and noticed it was cold and windy. We scrounged around in the van and found a sweater for William, a sweatshirt for Naysha, a jacket for Riah, a blanket for Ella, and another blanket that Taryn used as a shawl. Cedwryck had brought a jacket because he'd just got a new camouflaged one and he's been wearing it non-stop. Of course we all needed a toilet, and of course there wasn't one there. So up our first flight of stairs to the platform, which was out in the wind. And then the announcements started. All trains were suspended because of a customer-related incident at the St Paul station, and we'd be told more soon. I considered going back down the stairs and across the parking lots to the grocery store toilets, but decided I could wait. It wasn't long before we were informed that the hold up was a woman giving birth on the tube. Well! What do you say to that? It wasn't too long before trains started moving again, and we got on one with just enough room for the stroller at one end, Bob and I standing, and the other 4 children sharing the two half-seats on the rear wall of the car. Every stop as we went closer to downtown, more people got on than off and it was soon to the point where we didn't have to worry about falling over because there was no place to fall.
We had to change lines at Mile End station, so off we got. We almost hurried and got on the wrong train, but decided to wait since it was crowded. That gave us time to really read the signs and see what we needed to do. Of course what we needed to do was go up stairs. In spite of the crush on the trains, the station itself was not crowded. So up stairs, across the track, and down stairs to the other platform. This station didn't have a toilet either. We hopped our train, which had empty seats (yea!) and on to Tower Hill stop. Tower Hill didn't have toilets either.
So up stairs and out on the street, where it started to drizzle as we figured out which way to go. The best way to the Tower bridge was, of course, down a flight of stairs! Maybe this is a good time to mention that the stroller itself weighs 15-20 pounds, the babies together are over 60lbs, and we had the bag of fruit, drinks, and the diaper bag hanging from the back. Total it was well over 100lbs. Going up stairs was more weight on Bob, but going down it was more weight on me. Twice in the day the whole weight rested on a spot on my forearm, which I'm sure will be a lovely purple by the end of today. Somewhere between the station and the bridge we spotted a cafe, and Taryn went in to ask about a toilet. There was a pay toilet around back. We found it with someone inside and a man waiting. The man finally gave up and left, but we waited. A man came out and held the door open for us so we wouldn't have to pay. :-) We all took it by turns, though Cedwryck didn't see the door release button and I did have to pay once. Greatly relieved, we all ate a piece of fruit.
Anyway, we made it onto the bridge, which of course is lovely even though it was being renovated. Across to the first tower, where the exhibition starts. Before we even got in the door we were met by an employee who informed us that the lift was not in operation, so we'd have to navigate the stairs. I asked (assumed, really) about leaving the stroller at the bottom, and he said we couldn't do that. Oh. So now what? The one thing we'd planned to do was out, and it was about this time I realized that our map of London (which we'd bought last time down) was still in the glove box of the van, for our convenience.
So we looked around a bit. The Tower, yeah. The HMS Belfast? It was *right* there. Sounded good. Now the funny thing about the Thames is that it isn't really at street level, so when we crossed the bridge to the Belfast's side of the river we still couldn't get to it. There were stairs down, but I wasn't convinced they led anywhere other than the engine rooms, part of the bridge exhibition. So we walked down the street and around the block and through a garden to the riverside. Then down to the boat. Children are free, so it turned out not TOO expensive, and they had a place to park the stroller. We spent the next couple of hours exploring the ship. Up and down ladders (fun for someone who doesn't like heights and had to carry a baby so she was going down ladders with one hand), in and out of all the rooms... It was fun. We were getting pretty hungry and almost cut the visit short, but I saw a sign about a cafe. So up another deck to the cafe where we had sausage and mash, ham sandwiches, rarebit with bacon, and a scone. The sandwiches and rarebit were a bit heavy on the mustard, but we were hungry enough to eat most of it anyway.
Would you know, with only one public toilet in the whole city, there were two on the boat? So we left there feeling much better, but not really knowing what to do next.
There was a sign/map thing that we looked at, and it mentioned a church just down the road. We went down, across, over and back before we found it. Not very attractive, and locked up tight. So we headed back toward the river. We went back across and headed toward the Tower. Might as well. That thing is HUGE. By the time we got around it Bob's knee was hurting so badly that he didn't think he could make it through. So we watched pigeons and people for while, but the rest didn't help either. I wasn't going to say so in case Bob did decide to go in, but my hips were pretty sore, too, so I didn't mind when he decided to call the day.
So back to the tube station - up stairs, down stairs, down again. Ouch! Onto the tube, where we got seats and Cedwryck nearly fell asleep before our change. We all nodded off on the longer ride back out to Loughton. Between Epping and the Motorway is the McDonald's with a playplace. It's almost obligatory that we stop there for dinner. And we were home in plenty of time to unload and prepare for bed.