Monday, 10 August 2009

they're off

Mom and Dad had this terrific idea of staying the night in London last night, to make an easier morning today. Makes sense. So yesterday they were all packed, and we left the house at 8:15am. Went to their hotel - the Holiday Inn M4 - where we planned to park the minibus, take the shuttle to the airport and there take the Tube to the Eye. First thing, we notice all the "don't leave anything in your car" signs. It was only 10am, but they decided to see about checking in. I was very surprised to find they could check in, no additional charge, and the parking would cost 6GBP instead of 10. I'm liking this place. So we took the luggage up to the room, all used the toilet, and then got ready to go.
The shuttle was 4GBP per adult, children free. It wasn't a long drive to the airport - we went to terminal 5 instead of 1,2,3 - and there was a "lift" to the tube. We decided on the way over that we should eat as soon as we found something, so at the airport we went into the M&S Simply Food. We got sandwiches, crisps, biscuits (cookies), and a bag of tangerines. Free napkins! I also topped up Bob's and my Oyster cards at a machine. Then we were on our way.

As we settled into our seats, Bob mentioned to me that Dad had decided he didn't want to go on the Eye after all. (Dad had been sick Saturday and got to second-guessing his his decision to go.) I asked Bob if he wanted to go anyway, thinking to myself that if we weren't going on the Eye, then we didn't need to take the route we'd planned - we could go anywhere. Bob replied that he didn't know, and we went on to handing out the lunch. After a lengthy ride, we got off at Green Park station. The station before, the driver announced something about some lines being closed, but he had a nice quiet voice and none of us knew what he'd actually said. There were ongoing announcements in the station, but they were unspecific (as were the signs). So we took the lift up, walked over, took the lift down, and walked a ways (yes, I realize how blessed we were to have a lift at all, as most tube stations have lots of stairs) to discover that the line we wanted was, indeed, closed. So we walked back, finding the up lift but not the down one. Got back on our previous line to the next station, and changed there. Of course there we had stairs.

Oh, and did I mention it was HOT in the tube? No air at all. The second stage of our journey was quite crowded as well. In fact, after having the parents and walking children get in the car at one door, Bob and the stroller almost didn't make it in the other door. I asked people to move down (there are handles for standing people all the way down the isle between the seats, but everyone stands in the doorway) and one or two did, but then a woman started hollering at me because her husband had a heart condition. Because we all know standing anywhere other than the middle of a doorway will cause heart attacks. Anyway, Bob rolled the stroller over his foot and we got in. The man never looked up.

So we arrived at Waterloo station quite hot and grumpy. First order of business, upon which we all agreed, was to find a toilet. *There* they are. 30 pence per use, and it was down stairs and there was a line. So Mom and I decided to hold it, but the girls and the boys & men went. Now what? Waterloo is a big station, with 6 exits onto 6 roads. So we needed to decide which direction we were going. But it was too hot in there to decide anything, so we just headed toward a door - the farthest one away - to get somewhere we could think. We exited to a cloud of cigarette smoke and a very narrow sidewalk. Didn't know which way to turn. One of the smokers asked where we were going, and Bob said the Eye. He said go back in, and take exit 6 (the opposite side of the station). So we marched back through, double time. Out at exit 6, we discovered a sign indicating the way to the Eye was down a flight of stairs. Straight ahead was a shady place that looked like it might be elevators. No such luck. We decided to sit there a while and cool off. That was nice.

After 20 minutes or so we were cooled off enough to try to talk, and Bob said he would like to go on down to the Eye, even if he didn't get on. So we loaded up and started out, to have Mom call to us as we got to the top of the stairs. She and Dad were just too tired to go gadding about London. They took my cell phone and headed back to the hotel.

We went on. As we approached the Eye, I saw a sign promising toilets, and thought that was a good idea, as I was cramping pretty badly (often happens when I get too hot and then drink too much water). Toilets weren't at the Eye itself, but neither was a long line. The children were eager to go, so Bob decided to go for it. He, Taryn, Naysha, and Riah went to get in line. I took Cedwryck and the stroller to look for the toilets. A sign pointed down the sidewalk to the West. It was solid people down there, but we managed to get through. There were 4 or 5 places to eat, three museums, and an arcade. Every one of them had steps leading up to the entry (all being housed in one old building - I'm trying to remember the name of it) and none with ramps. No sign of the toilet. At the end of the sidewalk were two sets of stairs up, and one set down. So we turned around and headed back.
At one point a couple of women pulled over in front of me (I view pedestrian traffic much the same as vehicular traffic, only without the written rules) and creeped. I tried to be careful not to run into them as I looked for an opportunity to pass, but I guess I bumped one of them. She jumped around so quickly it made William cry, and I said sorry. Then she went off about how I "kept pushing and pushing" so I apologized again, saying I didn't realize I was so close. She chose not to accept my apology, but snapped "Well, you were." Being tired of taking all the blame, and by now finding a place to pass, I snapped back "When you cut in front of me and STOPPED you didn't give me much choice!" And went on down the sidewalk.

We made it back to the little park at the foot of the Eye, found a spot in the shade, and I sat while the little ones chased pigeons. It wasn't long before I saw Bob and his group boarding the Eye. We had a snack of peanut butter crackers, candy, and water. We listened to music from the street performers and watched the boy with the bubbles. The 40 minute "flight" passed quickly. Then we met back up, and the people who'd gone got their snack as we exchanged stories.

Bob was wanting a cheeseburger, so we headed back down the sidewalk to the McDonald's there. With two of us we were able to lift the stroller up the stairs. The whole front was jammed with people in line to order. There was no "back" - seating was downstairs. It was very noisy inside, so we decided to go back out to eat. I went ahead and took the children out while Bob stood in line. The sidewalk tables were full, of course, so we stood at the railing and looked at the river. 30 minutes later I sent Taryn back in to help carry drinks. Another 15 minutes and Bob and Taryn emerged with the food, soda, and ice cream. The tables were still full (we've noticed that once the British get a table, they consider it theirs and are never in a hurry to leave), so we decided to go sit on the stairs at the end of the walk. It was then that we discovered the toilets - not by sign or sight, but by smell. It seems they were down the stairs. We held our noses as we walked across the opening, and sat on the edge of the lesser-used stairs that led up.

After a refreshing meal (being about 3pm), we thought what to do next. All things considered, we decided to head back home, but through a different station. So we walked East along the sidewalk (this area is known as the South Bank, being on the south of the river Thames) to the pedestrian bridge, to the Embankment tube station. This took us back past the Eye, which now had a very long line indeed. We also walked past all the street performers, artists, musicians, who crowded the sidewalk. At the foot of the bridge there was a lift (elevator) up to the walkway, so we took it up and crossed the river. The lift on the other end of the bridge, however, was out of order, so Bob bounced the stroller down the stairs. Ella and William thought it was hilarious.

As we were on the bridge, Mom called to say they were back to their room, and wondered about dinner. We told them to go ahead, as we'd had food and it would be awhile before we got there.

We found the tube station, to discover that the route we intended to take was also closed for the weekend. But, as I pondered the map, an employee asked if I was all right (kudos to him; that doesn't happen often) and helped me find the way to go. It was only one change after all, so no problem. We also bought some water, as we'd sweated out all we'd brought with us already, and the man in the shop told us where the toilets were. (Keeping in mind, I'm 6 months pregnant and haven't been in over 6 hours). These particular toilets cost 50p each, and had a turn style entry. Naysha and I did get in on one go, but Taryn paid again. It didn't count one of her coins, so she asked for more, and I told her to just duck under the style; we DID pay. After such a ridiculous fee, I was irritated to find the first open stall was out of paper. What were we paying for, anyway? But others were operational.

Then onto the tube - more stairs, of course - where (at our exchange) we let the first train go by because it was so crowded. The next two went a different route, and then we decided to go for it. We barely managed to squeeze in, but people shifted and we made it. Thinking it was stuffed already, the next two stops brought more on and none off. Yikes. But after that it was a gradual lightening of the load, until we were each able to have a seat for the last section of the trip. Off at the airport, we found our bus stop pretty easily, thanks to a helpful employee, and after confirming that it was the bus we wanted, proceeded to pay for 3 tickets, since each adult is only allowed 2 free children. Whatever. It was air conditioned, so made for a nice ride back to the hotel. There we found Mom and Dad showered, fed, and pretty happy. Of course, until the hugs started. Mom finally had to chase us out before she broke down completely.

Dad walked us down to make sure we got the parking paid for all right (we paid at the desk) and saw us out to the car. It was about 7:30 at this time, when we usually start getting the children ready for bed. We found the road without any trouble, thanks more to Bob's good driving than an abundance of information, and had just got started on the M25 when we hit construction. For about an hour we averaged 15 MPH. Then things cleared out a little, and we got off on the M11 toward home. We stopped at the Stanstead services (we've been there twice before) for a "midnight" snack at KFC. William wanted to hug more than eat, but the rest of us were pretty hungry. Two trips each to the toilets, and then a stop at the shop for candy, and we were back on the road.

We made it home about 11pm and got the children in bed. I showered and Bob and I were asleep by 12.

It is now 10:15 am, and I assume Mom and Dad are in the plane, starting to level off. Today will be a long day for them, as they won't land in OKC until 1am our time, and then have over an hour drive to get home. Staying overnight close to the airport is sounding like a really good idea.

And now it's back to work for me...


Anonymous said...

I was wondering how you were doing with making it to the airport. Oh wow. I guess if there is ever a chance in the world for me to visit London it will be with a tour group. There is no way I could ever handle all that "getting around" London. Thanks so much for writing. jc

MamaOlive said...

JC, London isn't bad if you have a plan (and check the web first for closures), a back up plan, and no problem with stairs. :-) We complicate things for ourselves by taking the little ones, and by not being decisive.

Ganeida said...

I found getting round London incredibly easy ~ ^ I have no sense of direction.

The goodbye bit is always the hardest bit but staying close to the airport was a really, really good idea. Glad you all had a wonderful time together.