November 9th, 2012



Trying to wrangle 30 people, over half of whom are teenagers, through across over and around a major city is a lot like herding cats. A HERD of cats, in fact. Sometimes I was reminded of a spastic octopus wherein legs and tangents shoot out in all directions and have to be reeled in. At other times, I was reminded of a very lethargic amoeba who was plasticly and constantly stretching out and smooshing back together, as we stretched and smooshed our slow way from block to block. Usually I was either far in the front of the majority, frustratedly tapping my virtual fingertips while waiting for everyone to catch up already OR last in a long straggling line because holy marathoners we walked a LOT and my feets hurted.

I would say it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, though this is the tale of only one city. I was in London years ago when I was roughly the same age, for approximately the same kind of reason: Fifteenish, for a choir trip. I don't actually remember a lot of details of the trip now, sadly, though I do remember Big Ben, and doing brass rubbings somewhere near it, and the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, and being underwhelmed by Piccadilly Circus (it's a TRAFFIC CIRCLE).

There were things that went awry nearly every day, from 2 people nearly missing the train to the airport (at 4:45 a.m.) because they mistook the meeting place, to one student nearly being turned away at the check-in counter because her South American passport had expired, despite the fact that it had an official renewal authorization in it, to one child (mine) leaving his passport on the plane, to a group of the kids (including mine, *sigh*) getting lost in Hyde Park, etc. etc., but everyone kept their temper and dealt with each issue with good humor and resourcefulness.

These are the things that we did/saw during three days in London. Believe me, if you walk enough you can do A LOT. We were not allowed to do anything that cost money (it's a school law here in Sweden and this was a school trip) so some things were out (Madame Tussaud's, the London Eye, the Tower, etc.) but despite that restriction, we really crammed in the sightseeing: Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Albert Memorial, Peter Pan statue, Speaker's Corner, Marble Arch, Harrod's, Chinatown, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, Science Museum, British Museum, Natural History Museum, Covent Garden, Oxford Street, the Underground. In addition, on Wednesday night, with the exception of a handful of us who wimped out and limped back to the hotel, there was a 2-hour tour of London at night: Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, the London Eye and the Tower Bridge. We walked a minimum of four hours every day.

The kids were, by and large, great. The teachers were dedicated and resourceful and really good at herding cats. The other two mothers and I, who basically just came along for the ride, had a good time, despite a few bumps along the way. The hotel was not the best, though everything worked out in the end, so I won't say more about that, except to relate one part of our Three's Company drama:

We knew in advance that we would be sharing rooms. The hotel mostly has rooms for THREE people, which I find bizarre, but am told is quite common in London. So I knew that the kids and teachers were sharing in triples and some pairs, and that we three moms would be sharing a room. All three of us, as we confessed later, were quite nervous about the whole thing, since we only knew each other glancingly beforehand, and I wasn't even sure of the other two mom's names before we left. When we got to the hotel, there turned out to be a mix-up with rooms and we had to wait a bit before we could get ours. Misa took charge and checked us in and then went down to drop off her bag, after which she came up to get us and warned Agneta and I that it was "really small". What she didn't say, and what we were completely horrified to find out when we got downstairs to our cellar-level room, was that it was approximately the size of my computer room...with only TWO beds. A single and a double.

So, apparently, in addition to sharing a room, two of us also had to share a BED. Urgh. Nothing against you ladies and all, but just...URGH. We went back upstairs and complained volubly to the three men at the desk who were less than sympathetic and gave us no help to resolve the situation whatsoever. No, they did not have any other rooms. No, they did not have any cot beds they could give us. No, they did not have any extra mattresses they could give us. No, they could not switch us with anyone else. Agneta said she would sleep in the bathtub. GAH, we all said and flung up our hands. We couldn't get any of the kids to trade with us, because they didn't want to share a bed either.

A little while later, one of the other teachers happened to overhear us grousing about the situation and said, "Wait, what? I have a giant room to myself with THREE beds!" Whereupon, we threw ourselves upon his mercy and entreated him to swap with us. Of course, he would. No problem. So, it all worked out in the end.

Sadly, the air in the cellar section was apparently not of the best quality and we all three woke up with bad headaches the first night; mine turned into a migraine and I was sick to my stomach and missed the first part of the middle day, missing the Science Museum portion entirely while I medicated and recovered. I caught up with the group in the early afternoon, after a restorative bowl of delicious chicken & rice soup at a nearby hotel on my way to Hyde Park. A hotel that had courteous staff, an appealing menu in their restaurant, and free Wi-Fi, all three of which were noticeably lacking at ours.

  • Covent Garden was lovely and I found Laduree and bought some macarons: YUM
  • Watching Martin interact with his chums
  • Getting to know Misa and Agneta
  • Spending an hour and a half in an English bookstore full of English books in English (although realizing this evening that I already HAD one of the books I bought was a major disappointment...drrr)
  • Discovering the insanely excellent children's picture book This is Not My Hat by John Klassen, though I haven't purchased it yet
  • Not thinking much or worrying at all about work for three days: simply luxurious
  • The South and Central American mosaic pieces at the British Museum
  • The oil painting of the Execution of Lady Jane Grey (Paul Delaroche) at the National Gallery: stunning and simply arresting (the link, while excellent, doesn't provide the impact that actually standing in front of it does. She looks like she's moving. You can almost hear the lieutenant whispering in her ear)
  • Christmas lights and decorations making me long for our trip home in just one month!