Airports don’t count towards CrazyTraveler countries. One has to leave the airport and see/do something for it to count as a visited country on our list. So when me the my girls had a 10 hour layover in London for our connecting flights to Africa, I seized the day to get my kids another country on their CrazyTraveler count list.
10 hours seems like a nice chunk of time. 10 hours following an all-night flight, however, means dragging tired jetlagged kids through London. A challenge. Worth it, no doubt, but I knew we were in for a looooong day.
Their priority: seeing the world’s largest Lush store – with three levels of foaming bubbling “bath bombs.” Not exactly a cultural experience, but we moms do what we can to make our kids happy, right?!
Travel Hiccup; Happy Coincidence
My priority: I had found us a free walking tour with a group (Sandeman’s) we’ve done walking tours with in the past. These high-energy tours are generally given by fun and funny university kids who work for tips and provide a lot of color and context to whatever city you are roaming. I thought my kids would enjoy it. I even booked it in advance (rare planning for my CrazyTraveling self). But the travel g-ds had other plans.
We took off from DC at 10:30pm. We landed at 11am, London-time. The tour was at 1pm. Two hours seemed like a respectable amount of time to clear customs, express train into London and get to the meet up point. Nope. It was barely enough time to clear the immigration line, which apparently has been so bad this summer that it made the front page of one of the local papers the same day we arrived.
We caught the Heathrow Express, popped out at Paddington Station and get ourselves into an Uber by 12:50. The tour meet-up point in Covent Garden was about 2.5 miles away. Seemed like we just might get there by the skin of our teeth, Until the time the Uber app said it would take 30+ minutes to get there due to London traffic!!
I agonized in the car for a while as the fare ticked up and the minutes passed. We first thought maybe we could catch up to the tour, then at 1:20 realized that we would likely never find the tour. We were driving through a fun looking neighborhood of shops and restaurants not far from Reagent Street and Piccadilly. Zara made the call and said “let’s just hop out here and walk around, Mom.”
Zara is known in our family for her instincts in sniffing out good restaurants. But in this case, her instincts led us to shopping. Once we popped out of the car, I opened my Google maps to see where exactly we were and how far a walk we were from either Trafalgar Square (where I had hoped to end up) or Lush (for the girls). According to the map, we were less than 100 meters from Lush. Zara’s instincts had led us, by happy accident, to Lush’s front door!!
Picture bath products meets the M&Ms store – with lots of samples and interactive displays and products to put on your hands, face, hair, lips, teeth, etc.
We moisturized body parts, most of them appropriate.
We “did” Lush London. And yes, Zara has instagrammed it already!
Big Ben Bummer
Apres Lush, we fish-&-chip’d. We walked ourselves through Soho (trendy!), Chinatown (bubble tea and “bubble wrap” waffle ice cream!), Leicester Square (where we visited the actual M&M’s store, but unlike in Vegas, they don’t let you sample!), and Trafalgar Square (not at all like my memory from my visit in the 1980s when lots of homeless punk with mohawks hung out in the square, and pigeons by the thousands flocked there and landed on your head!).
Our legs were fading, and we were tired – as our only sleep the night before was what we could squeeze in while uncomfortably seated on our overnight flight. And we were running out of time. So, we had to make the Buckingham Palace vs Big Ben/Parliament call. Big Ben was closer. That was the deciding factor.
After a few blocks of walking and intense whining by one of the mini-Duckers, we stood in the shadow of scaffolding. I mean, Big Ben. Or what I’m told is Big Ben underneath the scaffolding. Bummer.
Still, the nearby Westminster Abby and Parliament buildings were impressive. And we got the chance to briefly walk along the Thames and see, from afar, the London Eye ferris wheel (I promised Zara we’d return to London one day to let her ride it.).
My kids got a taste of the tube (“mind the gap”) as we navigated our way back to Paddington Station, back to the Heathrow Express and back to the airport – where we arrived an uncharacteristic 3 hours in advance of our flight. The newspaper headline had scared me, and I didn’t want summer security lines to prevent us from catching our next flight(s). Turns out the wait is getting into the country. Getting out was a breeze. Security lines were short, and per the overall theme of the day, we spent our final hours roaming duty free, spraying more scents on our bodies and spreading more creams on our faces. Exhausted, and ready to sleep on the 12 over flight to Johannesburg, South Africa that was to follow…