When my sister-in-law booked my tickets to London, England exactly a week ago, I couldn’t believe it. I also couldn’t believe that she actually managed to find seats for my daughter and me, just a mere day before the flight was scheduled to take off. I guess we just got very lucky. And you can just imagine just how incredibly thrilled I was that this vacation, albeit very short, was finally happening! You see, in the past, we tried to plan a trip a couple of times to not only visit the UK, but to also travel all across Europe. This was back in September. That, of course, didn’t happen due to some personal and work-related circumstances. We tried again in December, and unfortunately, once again it backfired. However, this time it was different. We threw all caution to the wind, booked the tickets, and decided to just go, even if it was for just under a week. And when I say “we,” I am referring to my mother-in-law and my father-in-law. They had already booked their tickets before us, as they wanted to visit a family relative there who was leaving the country in less than a week. They (my in-laws) had just gotten their visas to the UK, and decided to take this opportunity to visit that relative.
Initially, I had no intentions of going, only because my husband was swamped with work and would not have been able to take time out, even for a few days, to go. I was bummed. However, two nights before my in-laws were supposed to leave, my mother-in-law suddenly turned towards me and said, “Raaza kana! Sirp peenza wruazey dee; Zohal hom raawala. Deer kha mowka dah, London ba hom wogorey ow laga dama ba she” [Translation: You should come! We’re only going for like five days. Bring Zohal (my daughter) too. It’s a good chance for you to visit London (since I’ve never been), and it’ll be a nice, restful vacation for you too.] My mother-in-law, the darling that she is, had a point. And a really good one. I nodded, slightly agreed with her and replied: “Wo samah dah. Ka khor ta sabaa ticketuna melow shwo, nu za ow Zohal ba biya darsara raashu” (Translation: Sure, sounds good. If sister-in-law manages to find tickets tomorrow, then Zohal and I will join you on the trip.] Lo and behold, the next morning I got a call from my sis-in-law, at 9 am in the morning, with the fantastic news. It all happened so fast that I barely had time to compose myself. And the odd part was that it didn’t sink in for a while. Here I was, about to leave for another country in less than 24 hours, and I had absolutely nothing prepared. And when I say ‘nothing prepared’, I mean in terms of preparing to travel with a baby — an 18-month-old toddler, to be more specific.
I have to admit, though, that while I was over the moon that this trip was finally happening, I was still quite a bit worried and reluctant. It was February after all, still quite chilly, and if I were going alone (with no baby in the picture), I wouldn’t have to worry; not about the cold or about anything else. However, here I was, with a little toddler, wondering what it would be like traveling with her. Also, since hubby wasn’t coming along either (and I’d never traveled without him, anywhere, before), the reasons for my being a little worried were quite legit. I had a million and one questions going through my head, as soon as I learned that our tickets were booked: How would the plane ride be? Will my daughter cry or become agitated? Will her ears pop and hurt during take-off/landing? How will I change her diapers on the plane? And what about once we got to London, I couldn’t help wondering: Would it be too cold? Will her winter gear be enough to keep her warm? OMG, what if she gets sick and catches a cold? Should I take ALL her meds with me, just to be on the safe side? All these thoughts and questions just kept going through my mind when I went shopping for her. I just wanted to be as well prepared for her as possible in order to ensure that she was safe and as comfortable as possible. I must say, though, that I really lucked out with my daughter, as she is quite a calm baby and not the type that screams or throws tantrums. Yet, it’s just that you can never know or tell with babies; they could be calm one minute, but then as soon as you change their settings/surroundings, they can do a complete 180 on you. Luckily enough, that didn’t happen with my little girl. As a matter of fact, I ended up going so well-prepared that at times it didn’t even feel like I had a baby with me. More about this and how (and what it’s like) to travel with a baby/infant/toddler will be described in more detail in part three (or maybe four?) to this series of blogs, so definitely stay tuned for that.
Anyway, the plane ride itself was smooth. Very smooth, in fact. Our flight was late at night, close to 12 am, so the six hours went by fairly quick. Both my daughter and my in-laws pretty much slept through most of it. I, of course, couldn’t sleep because a) I had to watch my daughter and make sure she didn’t roll over and fall off her seat and heaven forbid hurt herself (we got extremely lucky as the plane was pretty vacant, so there were lots of empty seats); and b) I can never, for the life of me, sleep on the plane. So, it all worked out perfectly. Instead, I ended up watching a movie on Stephen Hawking’s life titled, “The Theory of Everything.” LOVED it, obviously. Seriously, whoever came up with the idea of playing movies in cars/planes/trains is a genius! Time flies by so much faster that way.
We arrived in London around 12 pm, and by the time we left the airport with our luggage, it was close to 1 pm. The relative that my in-laws were visiting came to collect us. It was interesting, because initially I expected him to have arranged a car for us, but instead we ended up taking
the subway, err, correction, the tube! And, gosh, what an experience that was! Unlike Toronto, London has a pretty incredible, albeit confusing, transportation system. It’s like, you can literally travel anywhere and everywhere, very similar to how it is in New York City. It’s pretty convenient for commuters and those who can’t be bothered to drive. Another thing I noticed was that none of the stations had escalators/elevators! Like, there were none! Here, in Toronto, we have escalators like all over the place! Elevators too! And it’s so convenient, especially when you have strollers and wheelchairs, but I am wondering how do mothers (with baby strollers) and the physically disabled travel in the tube? I was quite shocked (and a bit disappointed). Good thing that the stroller we had brought with us was small; it was one of those basic tiny ones that folds nicely, are very light, and very easy to travel with. Hence, even if my daughter was sleeping in it, both she and the stroller were easy to carry over the stream of steps we had to travel to get to the trains. But still, escalators/elevators would have made life so much easier. Really, London, look into it!
By the time we arrived at the relative’s house, it was close to 3 pm. Yes, the train ride was long! And while we were exhausted, we decided to take a little break, have some tea/coffee, snacks, etc. before deciding to head out to explore the city.
The relative, who is male by the way, was living in a house full of men — Pashtun men, to be more specific. I knew this beforehand, and hence wasn’t too crazy about the idea of staying in the same house. Initially, the plan was that my mother-in-law and father-in-law were going to stay with the relative and my daughter and I would stay over at a close friend’s house. And while this was the plan, nothing was set in stone. I was, of course, still going to visit my close friend and even stay with her, but I didn’t know whether it would be for the full duration of my stay in London. Also, I had no idea what to expect of the place where the relative was living, and the fact that he was living with four other Pashtun men. I honestly did not know what to expect, but rather than judge the characters of these men beforehand, I decided to just play it by ear and go with the flow. I mean, the relative we were visiting is an awesome guy, too awesome actually, so the men he was sharing the house with were bound to be just as awesome/cool, right? Soon enough, I was proven right.
As soon as we entered the house with our heavy luggage, one of the young men quickly took our suitcases to the room in which my mother-in-law, my daughter and I would be staying in. They did the same with my father-in-law’s suitcase. Shortly after, they quickly prepared tea/coffee and snacks for us, which I thought was just too sweet and considerate of them. Within minutes, I was beginning to feel at home there, and any doubt I had about the young men went flying out the window. They were so respectable and so incredibly kind. The best part: when they spoke to me, they barely looked at me! I’ve never experienced that before. At first, I wondered why they weren’t looking at me in the eye when we were introducing ourselves; however, it didn’t take me long to realize that the reason they didn’t look at me straight in the eye was because they deeply respected me. I suddenly realized what it means when we say in Pashto “Pa stargo ke haya da,” which roughly translates to, “Humility/shyness in the eyes.” And these young men had so much haya in their eyes, it actually brought me to tears. Literally. It was beautiful. The respect, the kindness, and the way they cooked and prepared breakfast for all of us each morning, was all just so overwhelming — in a really good way, of course. Melmastia is one of the main tenants of Pashtunwali — the Pashtun code, and I experienced the most wonderful version of it, both at the relative’s place and afterwards at my close friend’s place, who by the way is also a very drana Pukhtana. I will describe and go more into detail on the beautiful Pashtun hospitality that I experienced in London in the latter parts to this blog. So, stay tuned for that.
Central London, Big Ben, and The London Eye
After we had ate and freshened up a bit, we all decided to sight-see for a bit. The relative we were visiting really knew his way around the city, so it was quite convenient to take the tube down to Central London (which was our first stop and about an hour away from where the relative was living). I was especially surprised at how mild it was for February. All my worries and concerns vanished when I realized London’s weather was nowhere close to Toronto’s (it’s like in the -20s and -30s Celsius here, and I wouldn’t be caught dead walking about in this bitter cold, forget taking my precious baby out). It got dark quick, but it was nice as we got a chance to experience the night life in Central London. The best part was that my daughter fell asleep as soon as we left the house, and she ended up sleeping for a good 3-4 hours, which gave us enough time to get to the city, walk around, and come back, without her getting disturbed or fussy/cranky. Also, London is five hours ahead of Toronto time, so around the time we went to sight-see, it was my baby’s nap-time. Needless to say, it all just worked out greatly.
The first thing we saw as soon as we got off the tube was parliament square and the beautiful, historic Big Ben. Okay, I have to say here that I was a tad surprised when I finally laid my eyes on the Big Ben; it was smaller — much smaller — than I had anticipated. For some reason, I expected it to be massive, but it was far from being colossal. However, it wasn’t small either (in case my readers who have yet to visit London get misled); I’d say that it’s around medium-sized: not too big and not too small either. Here are some pics for your viewing pleasure (these were taken the first night we were in Central London; we did go back the next day, but during the day-time, so will share those in the second part to this blog series).
Next, we saw the giant ferris wheel, also known as the “London Eye.” Oh, and the water you see is the gorgeous River Thames. (See pics below.)
The plan was to ride the ferris wheel so that it would give us a chance to see all of London from the top, but we decided to do that the next day, as we were a little tired and jet-lagged from the plane ride. So, instead we just decided to walk around some more, and decided to have hot chocolate/coffee at Eat; apparently this place is like the Tim Hortons (aka Timmy’s is the most popular cafe in Canada) of London; I saw it everywhere! So, we decided to try it out, and I must say, their hot cocoa is quite delish, as well as that chocolate bar I had with it. Indeed they were nothing short of fantastic! (See pic below.)
We ended the night with some delicious pizza. Ah, what can I say? Even in London, I had to have my beloved pizza! And it was absolutely divine!
In the second part to this blog, I will share more pics and details of the places we visited in Central London, as well as our amazing trip out of London city, towards the breath-taking Birling Gap and the amazing Pashtun friends I met up with as well! Of course, I won’t be able to fit every single detail into the second part to this blog series, but I’ll try my best to keep the series as organized and interesting as possible.
Thanks for reading and don’t hesitate to share your thoughts and/or experiences in the comment box below. Cheerios, for now 🙂