In our last few weeks in London, we made many special memories.
The kids' big request for this year - the London Eye. The London Eye is a huge Ferris wheel on the Thames. It was originally built for the massive celebrations around the Millennium (it was originally called the Millennium Wheel), and they decided to keep it as a permanent part of the skyline. It rotates very slowly, so that you only go around once, but it takes about 30 minutes. Great views of the city, but they make you pay for it - this little outing cost us 58 pounds ($92).
Of course we had to make a trip back to Hamley's, London's massive 5-level toy store. Now that we're immersed in reading the Harry Potter series, the kids especially enjoyed the high-end collection of Harry Potter memorabilia. If you're wondering where to find a huge selection of magic wands, broomsticks, or scale models of Hogwarts, this is your place.
Although I never did manage to visit the interior of the Houses of Parliament, I continue to admire it from the outside. What an extraordinary building. Called "Perpendicular Gothic" in style, it is unbelievably intricate and beautiful. Apparently it was originally built in the Middle Ages, but several fires caused it to be destroyed and rebuilt, most recently in the mid-1800s. Big Ben (the clock tower) was also built during this time, truly a symbol of London.
Seeing Parliament in action remains on my wish list for a future visit.
Our last day at Royal Albert Hall, here are a couple of photos of the children. Besides Baz, Ayla, and Isa, you also have Petr, Alyona, Yahor and Ilya (all Russians). In the first picture they are in front of the Hall, and in the second they are at the Serpentine, the large pond in the middle of Hyde Park.
Hampton Court Palace was today's big excursion. It was the home of Henry VIII and his many wives, and it's a fascinating old castle. This is the ceiling of the Great Hall. It was especially interesting to me to visit this place after having recently been to Versailles. There were some similarities, especially in the "Georgian" part of the palace which dates to the 1700s. But much of the rest of it, especially the parts closely preserved from Henry VIII, date to the 1400s, and fit his taste - lots of dark wood, hunting trophies, and large-scale decor. There were 55 rooms of kitchens in Henry's day, with 200 people working in them!
We didn't get to see all of Hampton Court Palace - there was more to see and do there than I'd imagined, and the fickle moods of the kids made a really thorough visit impossible. So this one, too, I hope to visit again someday.
And one last day with our dear friends, the Veales - bittersweet only because we don't know how long it will be until we see them again! They have been wonderful for us here in London .... many days of easing my loneliness with playdates and adult conversation, keeping Greg laughing, and helping us with all manner of practical problems. Here we all are in the elegant gardens of Hampton Court - look at those amazing trees! - where we spent the afternoon today.
OK, now for the rundown of things I will miss, and not miss, about London.
I will not miss: This damned apartment. This luxury complex, in a stunning location, has terrible Internet, badly-functioning appliances, and particle board furniture. I will also not miss the London winter weather, the anti-community of the Royal Albert Hall, and the vague depression that settles on me in this city.
I will miss: our beautiful, posh, overpriced-everything neighborhood. I love my fancy gym, and the artisan bakeries, and looking in the windows of the haute-couture shops. I will miss running in Hyde Park, and becoming a regular at the three giant museums. I will miss British accents, jacket potatoes, and references everywhere to the Queen's this and the Queen's that. Oh, and having a daily housekeeping service.
So this is it, London - who knows when we will meet again? All that's left between us and the airplane is a harrowing Tube journey (6 big suitcases and 3 small children. here we go!)