Wednesday, October 3, 2012

London and Beyond

A couple of weeks ago we all went across the pond for a week in London and then a weekend in Bishop's Stortford (about an hour northeast of London) for our friends' wedding.  I had been wanting to travel for a while, and figured we should probably go sooner rather than later, since I imagine Josie is easier to travel with now than when she'll be when she's 2 or 3.  She actually did quite well on the flights, especially seeing as how we were essentially asking her to stay in a 4 sq ft area for about 8 hours each way.  So she slept some, read, watched some tv/movies, and did fuss (and ok, scream) a little bit, but for the most part, she did just fine.  The flights were what I had been worried about for this trip, although it turns out there were plenty of other things to worry about instead (e.g., how the time difference would affect her, finding restaurants with high chairs to help contain a suddenly much more squirmy child, how to navigate many sets of stairs with a stroller, etc.). Traveling with a toddler is such a different experience than any traveling I've done before, and so although it was a good week, I don't think I would say it was much of a relaxing vacation.  We still had fun though, so read on for the recap and all the neat stuff Josie was up to for the week... :)

Our hotel was about a block away from Trafalgar Square, so that was naturally one of our first stops (after the grocery store, though).  Since Ryan was working all week, Josie and I were on our own to entertain ourselves, so we did a lot of walking and spending time outside.  The weather was really nice - I think it only rained once, and the temperatures were in the 60s or low 70s the whole week.
[Trafalgar Square]
[Horse Guards Parade (although we didn't see a single horse, so sad), and also the closest we got to the London Eye (off in the right background) - I was trying to avoid any attractions that cost money and had a set time attached to them, since our schedule was a bit unpredictable with Josie ;)]

Josie and I had a picnic in St. James Park, and we happened to go during recess time so there were lots of schoolkids running around playing tag.  I had thought Josie would join in the yelling, but instead she sat completely silently, sucking her thumb and watching them for quite a while.  As soon as they left, she did in fact start to yell... at the pigeons.  Turns out she loooves pigeons, as I discovered when she dragged me all around the park so she could chase them and yell at them.
[Watching the other kids playing]
[Calling to her little pigeon friends]

We went to a couple of indoor play areas, which Josie really liked.  Unfortunately, they weren't too convenient to get to, and I found out pretty quickly that it's very difficult to travel using public transportation with a baby and stroller when escalators and elevators are few and far between (although I did use the carrier for shorter excursions, but at close to 30 pounds, she's too heavy to carry for long).  Luckily, except for a couple of sets of stairs I struggled with on my own, people stopped to help me carry the stroller every other time, carrying it up and down the stairs with me (and a few times with a sleeping baby in it!).  
[Josie was a Tube veteran by this point - and although I didn't get a picture of when we were standing and she mimicked me and held onto the pole the entire trip, trust that it was ridiculously cute ;)]

I was trying to pick most of our destinations and restaurants during the week with Josie in mind since it turns out high chairs aren't necessarily ubiquitous in London, and I discovered it's not too easy for me to eat with Josie on my lap, although it did make it easier for her to steal my food - it turns out she's partial to egg and watercress sandwiches too :)  However, there was just one place on the "Stacey" list: the British Museum.  I love Greek mythology, and so I really wanted to go back to see the Elgin Marbles again... which Josie did very well for, although I pushed my luck by trying to go through a special exhibit on horses, which I ended up doing at a near run since she started screaming midway into it.
[Partial reconstruction of the Nereid Monument at Xanthos]
[Statuary from the east pediment of the Parthenon]

When we weren't out sight-seeing, Josie proved to be very entertaining back at the hotel room.  She was into everything, and was helpfully rearranging things, taking things out of their homes and putting them back in different homes, etc.  All the while, she kept up nearly a steady stream of babble, which was comprised largely of "mama" (yay!)... and "no" (boo).
[Josie decided that her diapers didn't really need to stay in the bag.  Also note her "throne", which was just a rolled up towel we were using to try to contain her for diaper changing - she hated it for its intended purpose, but loved to sit on it other times]

Along with pretty consistently using "no", "mama", and "dada / dadat" correctly, she also added "uh-oh" to her vocabulary that week.  She sometimes got the syllables mixed up, but whether it was "oh-ah" or "uh-oh", it was adorable all the same :)

Probably the toughest part of the trip was that poor Josie did not adjust well to the time difference. We struggled to get her to sleep even a couple of hours earlier than normal, and I started waking her up at 4am our time each day since otherwise we weren't leaving the hotel until afternoon, which made it more complicated to spend any time outside and get food (since eating dinner at 11pm London time for the first couple of days we were there didn't really work well).  Along with all of that, her naps weren't very good either, so she was a sleep-deprived, cranky mess by the end of the week.  She also started waking up screaming several times a night, so we ended up keeping her in bed with us more and more as the week went on, which really helped (and now things are mostly back to normal, so at least there doesn't appear to be lasting damage!).
[Josie co-opted my pillow one morning]

The week before we left, I noted that I thought Josie would be walking on her own within the week, since she was starting to stand and take a couple of steps unassisted.  But by Wednesday, I was thinking it just wasn't going to happen.  She was happily walking to various pieces of furniture, turning herself around, and walking back to me, but she wasn't trying to strike out on her own at all.

However, within a couple of hours of having that thought, Ryan came back to the hotel while I was in the bathroom washing her bottles and Josie was attempting (yet again) to climb into the bathtub on her own (fully dressed).  I told her to go to daddy, and she did.... she walked right out of the bathroom, turned the corner, and went into his arms.  Our jaws dropped, and I could practically see the light bulb go on in her head as she realized she could walk wherever she wanted, not just between Ryan or me and a piece of furniture.  So she finally really walked on her own, and then just kept walking - doing laps around the hotel room and generally being delighted with her new discovery.
[Right after she realized she could walk on her own]

[I took this picture because it struck me how much she looked like a toddler - little did I know she would actually live up to that a couple hours after this picture]

After our week in London, we took the train up to Bishop's Stortford on Friday.  We unfortunately didn't have much time to explore, and we basically only managed one meal, some grocery/diaper shopping, and coffee/tea in the downtown area and breakfast at our B&B during the short time we were there.  We had rented a car from Stansted Airport to drive to the B&B and to/from the wedding, and then to Heathrow to catch our flight on Sunday.  The drive to Heathrow actually went the best, with only a couple of missed turns near the end and not much traffic to contend with.  The first trip and subsequent time spent driving in the countryside was a different story, though!

It took us probably an hour to figure out how to install the car seat that we had rented with the car, so it was already dark when we finally set out from the airport.  We belatedly discovered (directly after we entered our first roundabout!) that the headlights didn't turn on automatically on our rental car, so absent any other good options, we ended up recreating the "Hey, look, kids!  There's Big Ben, and there's Parliament!" scene from European Vacation - just minus Big Ben and Parliament, since our particular roundabout was bordered by trees.  After maybe five times around, Ryan found the headlights (answer: on the dashboard) and we were on our way.  Ryan has driven on the other side of the road before in Aruba, but this was the first time he was driving from the right side of the car too - it turns out that actually made it more difficult instead of easier!  So he did very well, but it was still stressful since his spatial awareness and perspective weren't really calibrated for that vantage point.

On Saturday, we headed out to a village in the English countryside for our friends' wedding (actually, blessing / vow renewal, since they had gotten married in the States last year).  We actually got to the wedding on time (very unusual for us), except Josie got sick in the car on the way there, poor thing :(  I'm not sure who was most traumatized by this: Ryan for having to scrape the vomit off the car seat, Josie since she wasn't feeling well, or me because I just felt so bad for her.  So instead of heading into the church on time, we ended up scrambling to clean up the car and her, with Josie sitting in the car trunk at one point, crying and wearing nothing more than her diaper :(  I hadn't brought a second "nice" outfit for her - I really should know better by now, but I had reasoned that she couldn't possibly mess her nice outfit up for the few hours she needed to wear it.  Ha.  So instead she went to the wedding in jeans and a long-sleeve t-shirt.  Ah well.

Besides that bit of drama, the wedding was really fun!  The reception was in a tent in the field behind the church, and we had fun chatting with old friends and new, I indulged in some Pimm's, and Josie played with some of the games they had (giant Connect Four, croquet) and was delighted with a dog that was there.  We headed out just after dinner since we had to get up pretty early for our flight the next day.  I'm so glad we went and it was great to spend so much time with Josie, explore England a bit more, and see our friends again - although I also hope to avoid traveling that far again, at least for a few more years ;)

Miscellaneous cuteness:
[She was so proud of herself for having walked on her own to this post, which she then hugged like it was a long-lost friend :)]
[Taking care of her bib when it got in her way - her chin is a useful holding area]
[One of her games where she puts stuff on her feet and then violently kicks it off]
[Having fun sticking her bath letters to herself]

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