Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Of Riots and Trains and Wonderful Days

Day 2

An early morning for us both as we slept from around 9:00pm until 8 in the morning. The day before had worn us down significantly. Saturday was going to be an exciting day for two reasons. One was that we were going on the London Eye and the second big deal was Declan was going to meet his Great-Grandma for the first time.

Heading to the tube at Victoria Station Declan stated to get excited about the idea of being on trains. We quickly developed a strategy for getting us both through the gates since they required me to carry him through. I would give him the Oyster Card and he would scan us through. It was great teamwork and he was so happy to be helping. A quick jaunt to Embankment and we got out to a large crowd with placards, flags and buttons. Apparently we had just found ourselves in the middle of the largest protest to hit London since 2003.

We naively continued on our way across the bridge to the Eye amidst loud groups of people and roving bands with drums shouting slogans. We arrived at the Eye, checked in and thankfully there was not a terribly long line. Once on the Eye we stood at the one end of the pod and watch London rise before our eyes. It was gloomy out which we expected and all of our pictures show the fog that was in effect that day, but we really enjoyed the half hour just watching out the windows. Declan even said at one point, “I can see the whole world Daddy!”. Not the first time he would say it on the trip but definitely one of the cutest.

Once we were done it was time to make our way to Charing Cross Station so that we head to Sidcup. However, once we arrived at the footbridge to cross the Thames we were met with a police barricade and the information that the bridge was closed and that we would have to walk to Waterloo Bridge to get across. It wasn’t worth the extra walk so I decided that we could just go to Waterloo Station and get on the train from there. In hindsight I am glad that I did. I saw some pictures of the Victoria Embankment on the news and it was absolute bedlam. I don’t know how Declan would have handled that.

I have been to Sidcup for three stays over the past 10 years and it hasn’t changed at all in that time. The walk from the Station to my Grandmother’s took about 20 minutes and Declan just spent that time walking on grass and low garden walls.

Upon arrival at my Grandmother’s she was waiting at her door at the end of the hallway and Declan ran to her and gave her a hug. Probably the most heartwarming part of the whole trip. This trip was originally planned as an opportunity for Declan to meet her and he was amazing with her. We also were joined by my cousin Rhiannon who I met once when she was about 3 months old. It was truly great to be able to catch up with my Grandmother and meet Rhiannon as an adult. Declan took to them both immediately and spent a good portion of the time exploring “Great-Grandma’s flat”.

I have only really seen my Grandparents on a handful off occasions over my life as they have lived either in England or Australia for the entirety of it, but I can honestly say that I have always felt calm around my Grandmother. I find that she exudes calm and even when she is cross never really raises her voice. I have always found her presence to be comforting and I see that my son picked this up immediately as well. I will always treasure that afternoon.

We had a nice light lunch and spent the afternoon in conversation. I was able to log into Skype and have a call with Andrea at her parent’s house and Grandma was able to see Rhys sleeping in his bed there which she seemed to really enjoy.

It had been a long day and we decided to head home around 5ish. We had watched the news and found out that parts of the West End had actually experienced some good old fashioned rioting so we decided to forgo the regular route and had Rhiannon drive us to Dartford so that we could take a train directly to Victoria Station. Good idea in the end I think.

We ended the night at a restaurant called Giraffe where we had a short meal because Declan was so incredibly tired. He started to get a bit fussy, which I can’t blame him for and decided that he was not happy with the pasta that they brought him. We ate a bit and then just went home and crawled into bed. We watched Wall-E for about 5 minutes and he was out like a light. What a great day.

TOMORROW: Bluewater Mall to meet more family.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Vacation Day One

It’s been about 3 weeks since we returned from England and I wanted to take some time to actually reflect on the trip before I put it on a post. This was a huge event for both Declan and I. I was absolutely terrified as I have never been fully responsible for him with no real means of support and I was convinced that at some point I would do something horribly wrong (such as lose him somehow). Luckily this never came close to occurring. I am sure that it has more to do with the fact that he is such an absolute joy and an amazing kid than my tremendous skills as a Father.

Day One:

We arrived at the airport with Andrea and Rhys and waiting in line to check in. Andrea and Rhys stayed with us up until Security and I must admit that once we said our good-byes and gave our hugs and kisses I became a bit emotional. This was Declan’s first big trip and it felt wrong that I was going to be doing it alone with him. I wanted Andrea there to witness it all as well. Declan, not so much, he was just excited to see the “DC Airplane” (I found out that this is from a show that he watches called Mighty Machines. They show kids what goes on at places such as airports and they named one of the planes DC as it was a DC 10. Now all planes are DC airplanes!).

Security was a breeze and he was great with the scanner and everything. He was slightly worried about his carry on luggage as they took it to scan it but I told him that would be given back. Once he received it he was greatly relieved and we continued on. The departures lounge was great because he could see our plane and watch it being fueled and readied. We had to wait for about an hour and a half and killed time by Declan playing on my laptop. We were allowed to board first since I had a child with me which was convenient.

Once on the plane we settled in and waited for the imminent take off. Declan was reluctant to have his seat belt on and wanted to just play with the buttons on his seat arm but he calmed down pretty quickly. Once we actually went down the runway the excitement kicked in with a joyous “We’re flying Daddy!”

The flight itself was totally uneventful. We watched movies, talked and then he slept for about 4 hours which was what I was hoping would happen. We landed in London at 5:50am local time and luckily I was able to wake him up so that he could walk to passport control and luggage returns. I was congratulated by a number of passengers who marveled at how well behaved he was through the whole flight. I was incredibly proud of him.

At passport control they carefully scrutinized our documents as I had his Passport, Birth Certificate and a document that Andrea and I signed allowing me to take him out of Canada. We got our suitcase and made our way to the Gatwick Train Station and got our tickets for the Gatwick Express into Victoria Station.

I was amazed at how familiar everything felt immediately. I felt comfortable with purchasing what was needed without looking like a tourist which was nice. We got to London after a 30 minute train ride. Victoria Station was exactly as I remembered it 6 years before when Andrea and I were there on a visit to Victor when he was living in town. I love the station and its’ surroundings. You get out and are right at the theatres where Billy Elliot and Wicked are playing.

A quick walk down Vauxhall Bridge road brought us to Hatherly Street where we were staying thanks to the incredibly generosity of some friends who allowed us the use of their flat. We were let in and given the quick tour as well as an idea of what was in the area that we may need which I was very appreciative of. Luckily that area is full of vibrant little boutiques and shops that fit the bill perfectly for two guys on vacation!

I hadn’t slept yet and decided that since it was around 9:00am GMT I should try and get some shut eye. Unfortunately Declan was wired and awake so I set him up with a DVD on the computer and he watched it in bed with me while I slept. I was wakened 2 hours later when he told me the movie was finished. Luckily I was able to convince him to sleep for a bit as well. We didn’t wake up again until 1:30 in the afternoon.

Full of energy and excitement we decided to go for a walk. It was 18 degrees and sunny so we had a fantastic day to start with. Being in Victoria meant we were only about 10 minutes walk from Westminster Abbey and Parliament so we decided to go that way and see what we could see. It was so nice to see flowers and trees blooming. When we left Hamilton there was 20 cms of snow on the ground so this was like the tropics for us!

I was able to get some really nice photos on that first day of Declan just walking around and looking at things. We went to the tube for the first time and I purchased our Oyster Card for the rest of the week so that we didn’t need to worry about change ever. I started feeling like we belonged as soon as we had that because it is what everyone uses in London to get around. We took the tube a short distance from Westminster to Embankment and Declan got his first look at the “Big Ferris Wheel!”. The London Eye.

A quick jaunt up the stairs and across the Golden Jubilee Bridge brought us to the South Side of the Thames and face to face with the Eye. Declan loved seeing it and told me that it was just like the one at the fair (he was talking about the one at the fair in Erin that we attend every Thanksgiving). I agreed and asked if he wanted to go on it. He said that he did so we booked a flight on for first thing the next morning. We were both excited to do this.

We had a quick lunch and McDonald’s and then wandered aimlessly for a little which was great. It was interesting to see how he interacted with London. Everything became an obstacle to climb on or jump off of. Nothing was off limits as long as he wasn’t in danger of hurting himself or damaging property. I was fascinated to see how he viewed the City. It was one big playground for a 3 year old.

Eventually we decided to find a place to have dinner. We went to a restaurant called Garfunkel’s that was in the Victoria Shops attached to the Station. We just ordered pizzas and drinks and ate a bit and took the rest home. When we arrived it had been a long day and we decided to climb into bed, watch a movie and go to sleep. We were so tired. Day one was done and it had been marvelous. What a great start to our vacation.