1) Fries and chips are totally different. For all the years I’ve known him, Mighty has never shut up about British chips and cheese; extolling at great length their delicious wonders and how American cheese fries are just NOT THE SAME THING. While it pains me greatly to admit it, he’s not wrong. Somewhere between a french fry and a steak fry in terms of size, chips are a more substantial cut of potato and when fried to the proper crispness (and we disagree on what that is; I like mine much crunchier) and topped with a generous sprinkle of salt and a handful of cheddar cheese they are the entire reason why I gained back the five pounds I’d lost in France.
2) Chivalry isn’t dead. Because Mighty has to work during the day I wind up off on my own with The Captain a lot of the time. That means trying to navigate a whole lot of stairs with the stroller and a baby and all the crap that he requires for any outing longer than ten minutes. Most Underground stops are stair access only and even the ones that aren’t require an escalator AND stairs to get to your platform. Once you’re down there, you’ve still got to hoist the little chubby monkey over the gap and onto the train. I can do it unassisted if I have to, but I rarely had to. In recent years, men have gotten a bad rap for having lost the gentlemanly qualities of their forefathers.
While I’ll not debate the loss of manners on the whole across both genders, I have to say that by and large, men are still more than willing to lend a hand when they see it needed. Perfect strangers, often laden with their work day baggage and wearing expensive bespoke suits offered without fail to help me carry the stroller up stairs and down, over ledges, down curbs, and any other way I needed to maneuver. They offered me their seats and took time to flirt with The Cap’n. Notice I said “men”? It was almost exclusively men doing the offering and almost always younger ones at that (which is fair, considering The Cap’n, stroller and bag weigh a combined 60 lbs or so, the older fellas would have likely put their back out).
3) Everyone lies in their profile photo. It’s a universal truth and it doesn’t just apply to dating. When we arrived at our flat in London, we were . . . disappointed. Let’s go with that. The furnishings in the room had been changed since we made the booking, and the sofa that we were both looking forward to relaxing on had been removed and replaced with a 60” television. That might seem like an upgrade but it really wasn’t. We had needed the sofa for not just sitting on, but also for Princess to sleep on. Which sent me on a mad scramble through town to find London’s second worst bed. I say second because the cheap, horrible, falling apart at an ever-increasing rate, springs-in-the-back bed that we were sleeping on was easily the first. That was just the first of the ways that our flat was less than a palace.
The “kitchen” was missing almost everything you need to cook with, having only one large and one small pot; no frying pan, no sharp knives, no cooking utensils, no pans to put in the oven, no microwave, no trash can, no dish drying rack…really the list could go on for a few pages. There were plates, bowls, silverware, and that was it. Since as previously noted we cook at home most meals, this meant that we wound up paying out of pocket for all the missing items. We also bought an electric fan because it was beastly hot most days and the lack of airflow made sleeping impossible.
As a sidenote, you know what else made sleeping rough? Because we were so far north, the sun didn’t set until about 10pm and it rose again at 4am. There were no window coverings, so by the end of the trip I think we were all pretty sleep deprived!
4) When you’re traveling with a toddler, 9 out of 10 people will love him and think his antics are adorable. The other one will be in the flat below you. Which means that you will get daily calls from the building super for such indiscretions as walking around on the creaky hardwood floor before 8am. We always make a point of trying to introduce ourselves and the Cap’n to the neighbors wherever we are staying. We also apologize right off for his volume, which is always at 11.
Toddlers are LOUD LOUD LOUD people.
There is nothing that they do that they don’t do with as much deafening enthusiasm as possible. It’s annoying and we know it, but part of living in an apartment building means living with your neighbors’ day to day noise. This is especially true in a 150 year old building with zero sound proofing and creaky wood floors without so much as a throw rug. In an effort to not get kicked out we resorted to confining the Cap’n to the bed from whenever he woke up (4:30am was his favorite) until 8am. Some days this meant we watched Lilo & Stitch and ate cereal in bed (because there wasn’t anywhere else to sit) and some days it meant we wrestled an angry badger with our best WWE moves. This was the biggest stressor of the trip for me; feeling like I couldn’t let the baby play because he was “too loud”. Luckily, our next door neighbor and our across the hall neighbors were fantastic. The Cap’n would have been more than happy to stay with Jewels (so called because she’s a jewelry designer) forever if we would have let him.
A super special shout out to both Princess and Jewels for how amazing they were on the entire London leg of the trip. Without those two ladies, I think Mighty and I may have killed each other or the Captain or both. Thanks so much, you two!
5) Be a traveler, not a tourist. This one is sort of ambiguous. I guess what I mean, is have a sense of adventure. Step outside your comfort zone. Try to “live” a city rather than visit it. Get lost. Google things that you see and find interesting so that you have your own sense of the city’s history. Put down the guidebook and fold up the map. Skip the tourist clothes (seriously; shiny track pants are NEVER AN ACCEPTABLE WARDROBE CHOICE.) and adopt the local fashion trends. Don’t bitch too much about lines, or crowds, or expense, or the “oddness” of local culture, that’s the whole reason you’re there!
I know it’s easier said than done . . . we can fall in to the same trap too, especially when we’re tired or it’s been a particularly frustrating day. But nobody likes a tourist. World travelers though? Who doesn’t like an adventurer?!
6) Find something to collect. Then search out the perfect one. Mighty recently has taken up collecting vintage side strike lighters. The ones he likes best are the Dunhill lighters from the late 50’s. While not a completely rare item, they’re not something that you can just pick up at your local Salvation Army either (and are pretty rare in the US), so we have an excellent excuse (as though I needed one!) to scour local street markets and antique shops. We’ve also decided that as our souvenir from each of our stops on this trip we would purchase a piece of art depicting our favorite location in the city. In Paris this meant a gorgeous little water color of Notre Dame purchased along the bank of the Seine directly from the artist; in London it was an oil painting of Portobello Road . . . you get the idea. It’s a tangible something (and not something that needs dusting either) that we can look at every day and remember our adventure.
7) If you want to know where to go follow the locals. Whether you’re looking for somewhere to eat or the most awesome playground EVER, they know where to find it. Doing touristy things is fun, but sometimes you really just want to eat something yummy that doesn’t cost the mortgage to pay for or somewhere to sit for a few minutes where the baby can play. London is lousy with pubs (and they all claim to have “London’s BEST fish and chips!”) both in high traffic areas and off in neighborhoods. Princess went down to our “local” for a pint a few of the nights she was in town and in chatting with a group of locals got recommendations for places not to miss – among them Hampton Court Palace, which would be my number one pick as my favorite place that we went on a tour and somewhere we likely wouldn’t have gone since it was all the way down in Surrey. Another not-to-be-missed is the Princess Diana playground in Kensington Gardens. It’s Peter Pan themed and features a 3/4 scale pirate ship that children can climb all over as well as a wading pond with a stone crocodile (I listened for the clock in his belly, but they seem to have missed that detail) and other zones specifically designed for a wide age range of children. The playground is well equipped and well kept and just outside the gate there is a snack bar and a carousel.
If we ever return to London it will be specifically because Mighty missed getting to see the Captain playing in this playground and he’s still broken up about it!
8) Londoners are trendier than you. When we were in Paris, I overheard a shop girl telling someone that the difference between the French, the Americans and the Brits is that the French want to be sexy, the Americans want to be comfortable and the British want to be cool. Considering I’m writing this sitting Indian Style on the sofa in yoga pants while my toddler wanders around in his pajamas, I can speak directly to the American part of that adage being true and my observations of the other two cultures tell me she was probably right on there too. The women especially are evidence of this. In France, the women were very ladylike, with long hair, skirts and heels being de rigueur; while in London, EVERYONE looked like they’d come directly from a magazine shoot, they were so painfully trendy and on point. While you can shop on Oxford Street to achieve that same level of Better Than Everyone, you can also find current trends for REALLY REALLY cheap places like Petticoat Market making haute couture almost disposable.
9) Sometimes things don’t live up to your expectations, but that’s okay, it’s still an adventure. London was honestly a bit of a let down. Enough so that I was ready to call it a game and go home. Everything was expensive, and crowded, and shabby, and miserable. Maybe it was coming from Paris, which I loved so very much from the moment I set eyes on her, maybe it was just that I had grown a bit homesick, maybe it was that I’d longed to visit London for so long there was no way it would have lived up to the hype in my mind; whatever the cause was I found London to be slightly disappointing. But, and this is important, it was still amazing just for the very fact it was London. We saw some very cool things, we experienced some once-in-a-lifetime things, we ate our weight in chips and cheese, we made lovely new friend in Jewels and we learned that we can survive in a single room for a month without killing one another.
All in all, I think we can count it a win.
And lest you think it was all doom and gloom, here’s a shot of Princess and Charming being Super Classy ™ in front of Westminster Cathedral, showing all of England just how awesome Americans are. Be proud of your international representatives. 😉