Three years ago, short on inspiration beyond the usual “plastic tat”, I hit upon the idea of treating the girls to a special trip out for their birthdays. And so it was that two weeks after Eleni’s 6th birthday we were in London to watch Matilda, The Musical. The following year we were off to Bedford for a night in a hotel — Eleni’s first — and some indoor skydiving and surfing at Bodyflight.
I wasn’t sure what she would choose this year — to be honest I was a little nervous incase she decided to crank up a gear from the extreme sports of the previous year! But I needn’t have worried… a girlie day out in London was the order. The wish list of events included boating on The Serpentine in Hyde Park, a spot of shopping, dinner at Wagamamas (where else?) and a trip up The Shard. Her wish was my command.
A few weeks previously Darren had taken Elisa for a ride on the London Eye just as the sun was setting, and so of course Eleni wanted to go up The Shard at the same time of day to see London come alive with lights. The Shard booked for 6:30pm — sun set being 6:32pm — we were afforded a leisurely start to the day.
After a spot of breakfast and some homework (not the most popular part of the day!), we left the house around 11:30am and drove down to Reading station. By 12:30pm we were at Paddington station and starting our walk down to Hyde Park.
I had read somewhere a few years ago about a flock of parakeets that lived in London’s royal parks having escaped from somewhere or been released (can’t remember which…) some years ago, but in all the times I’d strolled through the parks I’d not spotted one. Today was the day! Just past the Italian Gardens and Peter Pan statue, near the entrance on the north side of Hyde Park, we saw a couple of men feeding beautiful green and yellow parakeets straight out of their hands. Intrigued we wandered closer to take a look, and one of them was kind enough to give Eleni some feed. He warned her that they do sometimes bite but undeterred she held out her hand. The men backed away to give her more chance of attracting one and within seconds one of the birds had flown down and landed on her hand. She wasn’t phased at all and stood for several minutes feeding the beautiful creature until it was disturbed by a passing dog.
Reluctantly Eleni left the birds and we continued along our way to The Serpentine. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I have to say the lake looked magnificent. It also looked big! We had a choice of 30 minutes or an hour with the pedalo hire, and of course Eleni wanted an hour so that we could go the full length of the lake. Let me tell you, the pedalos are not small. Designed to fit up to five people, with two sets of peddles, they take some welly to get them moving. Eleni did her best to help but to reach the peddles she had to pretty much lay down, so this show was pretty much all mine! We had a blast with Eleni steering (somewhat erratically, although she claimed to be “totally in control”) and me peddling we made our way around the perimeter of the lake in just under an hour… with a few breaks!
Boating ticked off the wish list, we stopped for a well-deserved ice cream. A 99 flake for me and a raspberry sundae, with extra sauce and a flake for Eleni. We ate them whilst strolling through the park, with our jackets tied around our waists, watching the skaters zooming along in strange formations, weaving in and out of the Sunday strollers. It could have been the middle of summer!
By the time we reached Green Park tube station, Eleni’s legs were ready for some respite, so we jumped on the underground for the two stop hop down to Leicester Square. By now it was 3.30pm and despite the ice cream our bellies were rumbling. Nothing else for it, we headed for Wagamamas!
Well fed and watered we started a slow amble from Leicester Square to Convent Garden, via two dedicated sweet shops! Once at Convent Garden we had a look around the market, and Eleni treated herself to two pairs of studs for her fairly newly pierced ears. Then we spent some time watching street performers doing juggling, acrobatics and magic. And of course the silver man magically hovering above the ground! It’s amazing how long children can spend watching those guys trying desperately to work out how it’s done.
At 5.30pm we set off back to Leicester Square to hop on the tube over to London Bridge and The Shard. We arrived 15 minutes early but as it wasn’t busy they let us straight up. First thing Eleni wanted to see was the toilet… I’d told her they had full length windows so you could do your business whilst surveying London and she was desperate to see if it was true. It was! But she took some convincing that being near the top of the tallest building in London made it a fairly safe bet that no one could see you.
After our adventure in the toilet we took at stroll around floor 68 with its unrivalled 360 views of London. She had been on the London Eye before and was astounded at how small that now looked from our position in The Shard. The daylight light was starting to fade as we made our way around looking for the recognisable sites; we even saw Tower Bridge open up for some boats to pass through, not something you see too often.
We made our way up to the 72nd floor which, unlike the totally enclosed floor 68, is open at the top to the elements. Not only was it considerably colder (jackets back on) but the idea that it was open freaked her out a little bit. We strolled round once but then she grabbed my hand and led me back to the warmer and enclosed lower floor. She spend some time wandering around using the computerised telescopes and was particularly intrigued by the overlays showing you how London would have looked at different point through history. From rural market town to the busy hub it is today.
Despite the sunny day, cloud cover had set in over the capital so no spectacular sunsets for us, but Eleni was in awe of how quickly darkness set in and how different London looked lit up at night. We bought a packet of crisps (the Wagamamas having worn off!) and a bottle of water, and sat on the floor to watch the light fade away. After a final walk round to take a few pictures of nighttime London, we headed back downstairs to make our way home. As Eleni said: “A most marvellous adventure”.