Two days after Crystal and Kevin left, we were happy to have another visitor – Lynn’s sister Catrina. The boys were excited to see her! She came bearing gifts of Legos, books, a frisbee for the park and candy for the boys. She was so generous to fill her suitcase with some American food we’ve been craving and can’t seem to find (or refuse buying at such ridiculous prices!). Peanut M&M’s, Oreos, Kraft Mac n Cheese and Hidden Valley Ranch Mix – yes, nice and healthy I know.
Amazingly, Trina didn’t display a drop of jet lag so we were off and running! I took her down to Westminster to walk around Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and all the traditional tourist sites there. We met up with Lynn and got dinner at our favorite little French restaurant nearby.
My dad had his brain tumor surgery the day before she arrived and I still hadn’t heard the results given the 16 hour surgery and time difference. I was so anxious for him to wake up and know he was okay.
Having the love and support of family has helped us feel closer to home during this incredibly stressful time. I’ve never been so relieved than to hear how successful his surgery was and the positive prognosis for the future, though the recovery would be long. We are grateful for technology that connects us across oceans and lets us see each other.
Surprisingly, we’ve never been inside Westminster Abbey so we loaded up the kids and took the tour. It was extremely packed, but absolutely incredible inside. We were greeted by a delightful and accommodating man, Martin, who was happy to lead us on a little personal tour to find an ancestor Tyler had recently discovered in our family line. Somehow we are related to the first Duchess of Gloucester and were shown her tomb in a special room. Tyler had all sorts of questions, which Martin was pleased to answer and welcomed him back to the library for more genealogical research.
I have learned to look up when touring any old structures in Europe. It’s simply fascinating to see the intricate, ornate and beautiful ceilings. These photos from the web display a small peek inside this fascinating structure. Westminster Abbey is the tradition place of coronation for English royalty. It’s difficult to take in so much visually at once while learning the elaborate history as you go along. A few interesting things I learned was that King Edward the Confessor began its reconstruction, formerly known as St. Peter’s Abbey, as a grand burial site for himself. One week after its consecration in 1066, he died and was buried there. It took another 25 years to be completed. Also, the saying “robbing Peter to pay Paul” refers to money donated to St. Peters that was diverted to pay for St. Paul’s Cathedral.
This is where all coronations of Britain’s kings and queens have taken place for the last nearly 1000 years. In most recent history, it is where Prince William and Kate were married–only a very small handful of royals have that privilege. Over 3,000 notable people are buried there as well, including many monarchs, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles, Dickens, Charles Darwin and many, many others.
We went to the Chapter House there which was encased with amazing stained glass windows, each telling a story. We loved seeing the windows about the discovery of America. Below the windows are a series of special paintings from the 1400s that are the best preserved example of “International Gothic Style” in England. Though quite worn, they once displayed 96 scenes or visions of the Apocalypse from the book of John. Descriptions of each scene were once labeled on parchment beneath them, now gone.
The little boys knocked on Britain’s oldest door (from 1050), but no one answered.
We walked all around the Westminster area, trying to avoid the crazy demonstrators that were picketing the area.
With fantastic spring weather, we trekked over the bridge for some lunch. Trina was introduced to her first Bento Box. We all had one and loved it, the kids’ were the best I’ve seen. I miss Japanese food from home.
Next up was Trafalgar Square where we stopped for Tyler’s favorite historical artifacts shop.
We walked around Picadilly and shopped at the Swatch store on Regent Street for some souvenirs for her kids.
The night was finished with delicious crepes in South Kensington.
Sunday morning was spent at church. After lunch, we left the kids for a bit to head down to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The doors were open so we went in to check it out. They were preparing for an evening service, but we had a few minutes to stare in amazement at the grandeur and awesomeness of everything. I can’t even imagine how, or who, could have painted the ceiling of the dome so high up at its construction so long ago.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of London’s most well-known sights, as the church of England’s cathedral that dates back to the design of Sir Christopher Wren in the late 17th century. For 250 years, it was London’s tallest building, once the same location as the original church dedicated to the apostle Paul in 604 AD. It is definitely a place that needs to be seen to appreciate. Incredible. Many notable events have taken place here, including Princess Diana’s wedding to Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth’s II Jubilee celebrations, funerals for Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill and peace services at the end of world wars.
Crossing the bridge to Southwark, we stopped in at the Tate Modern Art Museum with high hopes of being amazed. Art is definitely in the eye of the beholder. While there were some nice pieces, we saw a lot of unusual displays such as this galvanized metal construction that reminded me of something I might see in my garage.
Once they move the Tate to their newly constructed building, I will give them another chance to impress.
We stopped in to show her Lynn’s office and made our way back to the kids.
Changing of the Guards is always fun to see if you’re new to London. With crowds of people, and many warnings of pick pocketers from police, we squished together to catch what we could see of the royal guard marching in.
We lucked out with front seats on the double-decker bus headed back to Kensington. Jace wanted to show Aunt Trina his favorite dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum. We checked out a few other exhibits before heading out for lunch.
Cade watched the little ones so Tyler could take Aunt Trina to a true British pub from the early 1800s right around the corner from our flat, named Britannia. Of course we had to show her traditional fish and chips with mashy peas. Tyler loved his bowl of mussels and can’t wait to return to his new favorite pub.
Now it was Cade’s turn to come to Kensington Palace with us for a little tour. This is where Princess Diana raised her boys for the most part and where William, Kate, baby George, Harry and others live today, in a separate part of the building.
Seeing some of Queen Elizabeth’s and Princess Diana’s dresses they wore years ago was my favorite part. I remember loving this low-waisted, blue dress on Diana and getting a similar style for my 6th grade graduation. Completely 80s. Cade asked me, “Why would you want to make your legs look so short?” Good question.
The most depressing part was reliving the anguish of Queen Anne’s heartache as you walk through rooms learning about her 17 unsuccessful pregnancies and the boy she lost at 11 years of age who was in line to be King.
Queen Victoria’s family once lived in the palace as well, and we learned more about her large family and the adoration she had for her husband, Albert.
A stop by Harrod’s was a must. Cade helped pick out a souvenir for his cousin in the Lego section of the elaborate toy department.
Trina and I had a girl’s night out at a show. We had so much fun at Mama Mia, I’ve never been to such a high energy show where everyone is on the feet dancing and singing along at the end. Now I can’t stop singing all my favorite ABBA tunes!
Since the boys and I had our oil painting class, Lynn had Trina come out to his office to meet up for lunch. He took her down to Borough Market where they ate and explored. We shopped a little more and hung out with the kids.
We finished off the night with Lion King. We’ve been wanting to see it for a while and finally got the chance. The costuming and sets were so creative and captivating. The kids loved all the animals and music.
Tyler and Trina left early so he could show her around the Tower of London. It’s his favorite place here.
We met up and switched off so Cade could take Trina to lunch at Nando’s, his favorite place nearby for spicy chicken and endless frozen yogurt.
With drizzly weather, we adjusted our plans to see a castle and opted to go on a boat tour to see the city from a different view. Unfortunately we weren’t able to see much since the kids wanted to stay dry inside the boat.
It’s always hard to see family go. The time flies way too quickly. We absolutely loved spending the week with Catrina and making unforgettable memories. Thank you to her awesome family for making it possible for her to come out to see us!