Our return to London found us all a little tired, but our new hotel was conveniently located, so at least we didn't have to wander endlessly with lots of luggage. We did, however, underestimate the number of eating establishments that fit both our nutritional needs (otherwise known as "not Kentucky Fried Chicken") and took a credit card. We were out of cash and didn't care to track down an ATM in addition to a place to eat, so we followed the path Jarod's iPhone set out for us and had the longest walk of our lives. West Kensington, we apologize for the volume, pitch, and frequency of the shrieking, and we assure you that we were not kidnapping anyone, nor was our child harmed in any way, despite her indications to the contrary. She just needed a sandwich and a snuggle, and she got both once she stopped trying to dart into traffic as an act of revenge.
Note to future travelers: if your gut says, "Insist to your spouse that you must get food at the airport," then please give your gut some credit and insist that you get food at the airport. If you feel that it may inconvenience your spouse, who is purposefully navigating your luggage towards the Gatwick Express, remember our tale of woe, and consider it a gift to your entire family instead. The family that gets hungry and tired together gets angry and inconsolable together.
For some reason I thought that we'd have time to do something fun that evening, but after the shrieking debacle, the only thing that made sense was retrieving our extra suitcase from the friend who had kindly kept it for us (more on that when I wrap this up) and getting to bed. Because the next morning was an important morning. It was the morning we were going to feed some squirrels.
At this point I feel I must reveal to you what it is like to vacation with me. There are always plenty of sites to see and things to do, but most often you'll find me like this:
I have a feeling this will be quite satisfactory to Zinashi while she is young, and utterly embarrassing to her when she reaches her teen years. I'm sorry, sweetie. I just really like to talk to animals.
We had a very long walk to feed the squirrels, mostly because they are rebuilding a number of bathrooms in Hyde Park. Do you know when your four-year-old will need to use the bathroom the most? When the two nearest ones (which aren't actually that near) are closed due to construction. I don't know how long it took us to locate the Starbucks with a bathroom, and I don't want to think about it. I want to think about the part where we finally fed some squirrels.
From there the day only got better and better. Of particular note was our picnic beneath Nelson's Column. Don't ask me how I hoisted myself up there in a dress; sometimes a lady's secrets need to remain a lady's secrets.
We also were thrilled to locate the bathroom with a tub at our hotel. It's the little things that make a big difference, and Zinashi was far more comfortable taking a bath than a shower. We all went to bed satisfied.
The next day was our last day in London and holds some of my favorite memories of the trip. We decided to grab breakfast at the Costa outside the Embankment tube station and have a little breakfast picnic. I had forgotten about the little park there with the striped chairs and ping pong tables; it proved to be a perfect spot to snarf down muffins and engage in all sorts of silliness.
From there we wandered along the Thames, with the Tate Modern as our chosen destination. Because we were not in a hurry, and knew that the next day we very well might be, we allowed Zinashi to set our pace. Before long, we were joined by an imaginary puppy who needed tender care all day. We named him Figment and took turns keeping him in our pockets while we attended to other very serious matters.
At the Tate Modern I intended to show Zinashi some art, but instead we got caught up in reading the books in the gift shop. It was just as satisfying, and I'm sure that no one at the Tate Modern minded that we purchased a few good items without ever venturing into the museum at large. In my fantasies, I am afforded a whole day to spend there, but this was a family vacation, not Mary's private vacation, so the gift shop was it. From there, we had a lunch that wasn't noteworthy, and Jarod headed off for a job inquiry (which I would call an interview, but it wasn't for a specific position, so...I'm sticking with inquiry), and Zinashi and I were left to do as we pleased. It was raining very lightly, and we set out to make the best of it. We had two and a half hours to get from the Tate Modern, across the Tower Bridge, and to the steps of the Tower of London gift shop. We took our time, and it was glorious.
Mostly we stuck to the banks of the Thames, wandering into Borough Market briefly and meandering through parks when they were nearby. Zinashi pretended to be a horse and, after a coffee break at the Starbucks on the opposite side of the bridge, convinced me to join her in pretending to be various animals. We were lions, elephants, tigers, and housecats. As we ambled over to a bench to finish our hot drinks before heading to the gift shop, she grabbed my hand and said, "I love my Mami." That, my fine internet friends, is the mark of a well-spent afternoon.
And then it was all over, or mostly. Jarod caught up with us at the gift shop entrance, just as Zinashi was grabbing the crotch of the suit of armor inside and asking, "What's this?" We grabbed dinner to go, rode the train back to the hotel, and packed up so that we'd be ready to go at the crack of dawn the next morning. That was that. Vacation, past tense.
Overall, I give vacation high marks. I'm fairly certain that Jarod and I enjoyed ourselves more than Zinashi did, but I didn't expect that a girl who loves familiar things and routine would be bowled over by the uncertainty of her first vacation. She liked riding the trains in London. She thoroughly enjoyed ice cream every night in Nice. But she also loved getting home and reuniting with what we now understand are her beloved pets.
If we had it to do all over again, we most definitely would. On Wednesday I'll follow up with a little wrap up of what worked well and what didn't on the trip as a whole so that should you plan a similar trip with your family, you'll know both the pleasures and the pitfalls. Vacation with a young child is doable. If travel is your thing, you need not abandon it once you're a parent. It's not only manageable, but sometimes just plain fun.