Posts tagged #London


***Disclaimer: I wrote a post on our trip to London our first night in Pretoria. Unfortunately for my mental health, after writing the post and uploading the photos (a painful process with slow internet), the internet glitched and deleted the post. Here is my attempt to redo that post.***

Before we headed on our grand adventure in South Africa, Brian and I wanted one more adventure with just the two of us. After me begging and my amazing husband consenting, we headed to London (we planned it so we had a nine day layover on our way to Johannesburg).

Because it's been over eight months since our trip, I've had quite a bit of time to reflect on our time together and in such an amazing city. Here are a few thoughts from the trip mixed in with copious amounts of photos. 

  • We had both been to London before, so we spent a lot of our time going to off-the-beaten-path locations. We still hit up touristy spots, but one of our favorite parts of the trip was all of the walking we did. We got a good feel for the city because we just walked through neighborhoods, visited local pubs, and embraced the city life for the short time we had.
  • Being in London right after Christmas and over the New Year was magical. Many places were still decorated for Christmas. I loved it! (I've wanted to visit London at Christmas since watching Love Actually.) We were so fortunate because the weather really cooperated for us. The days were usually in the mid-50s and cloudy, with the occasional rain.
  • Brian and I have talked about this trip often and we both have a hard time picking one favorite thing we did. It was just the overall feeling of London we loved. BUT I can confidently say that the food was spectacular. We got to enjoy a Sunday roast at a pub on a rainy afternoon, got the traditional fish and chips, ate at Gordon Ramsay's restaurant, maze, and ended up at the British equivalent of Panera for breakfast thinking we were visiting a quaint French bakery (well played, PAUL Bakery).
Brian REALLY wanted his picture with this sandwich (look at that sparkle in his eyes!). To be fair, it was delicious—shredded corned beef, mustard, and pickles.

Brian REALLY wanted his picture with this sandwich (look at that sparkle in his eyes!). To be fair, it was delicious—shredded corned beef, mustard, and pickles.

Sunday Roast at Crown and Sceptre 

Sunday Roast at Crown and Sceptre 

  • As an Anglophile and book lover, I LOVED running into spots that had been mentioned in books I had read or film locations. It felt surreal to be walking down Gracechurch Street in Cheapside (Pride and Prejudice) or walking through Leadenhall Market (what J.K. Rowling based Diagon Alley on and a filming location for the first movie) or walking down Baker Street (Sherlock Holmes mysteries) or getting off at the Tottenham Court Road stop (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the Cormoran Strike mysteries). 
The storefront behind me was used as a filming location for The Leaky Cauldron in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

The storefront behind me was used as a filming location for The Leaky Cauldron in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

  • One event I slightly regretted at the time, but now look back with a little humor, was going to the Monument dedicated to the Great Fire of 1666. The Monument has stairs you can climb up and a great view at the top. I thought 311 stairs was going to be super easy. I. Was. Wrong. Not only was it a cardio workout, the stairs got more narrow as you went up and people were going up and down. It was insane. The view was great, but I spent most of my time on top trying not to get sick.
All 311 stairs...

All 311 stairs...

  • While we were in London, we got to visit some friends of mine from college. It was really good to catch up with the McRaes. They were so kind to have us over for dinner, watch most of our luggage for a week so we wouldn't have to haul it around, and even drove us to the airport. I greatly regret we didn't get a picture with these sweet friends.
  • One of the most British moments was when we walked across the Tower Bridge in the rain and wind. My Anglophile heart almost burst with the British-ness of it all! It was cold and it was rainy, but I was walking with Brian in London—all was right in my world.
  • Along with hanging around London, we went to the Harry Potter Studio Movie Tour. It was magical!! The great hall was decorated for Christmas, which was really wonderful to see.
Mirror of Erised

Mirror of Erised

He's basically Hagrid.

He's basically Hagrid.

  • On our last full day, we went to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which felt a little like a pilgrimage to me. Charles Spurgeon's sermons have seen me through some rough times in my life. Being there at the church where he spent so many years preaching the Gospel made me realize the value of a life well lived.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip. We were thankful to have had some time away before heading on our greatest adventure together yet. We still have a few things on our London to-do list, so I'm sure at some point, we'll return.

Posted on August 11, 2016 and filed under Vacation.

Links for All of the Days We Were in South Africa

If for some crazy reason you find yourself wanting to read all of the days in order (bless you), here are all of the days, linked up for your convenience. Thanks for reading our story!

Day 1: Pretoria

Day 2: Pretoria

Day 3: Pretoria

Day 4: Pretoria

Day 5: Pretoria

Day 6: Pretoria

Day 7: Pretoria

Day 8: Pretoria

Day 9: Centurion

Day 10: Centurion

Day 11: Centurion

Day 12: Centurion

Day 13: Centurion

Day 14: Centurion

Day 15: Centurion

Day 16: Centurion and Atteridgeville

Day 17: Centurion

Day 18: Centurion and Strand

Day 19: Strand

Day 20: Strand

Day 21: Strand

Day 22: Strand and Cape Town

Day 23: Strand and Simon's Town

Day 24: Strand

Day 25: Strand

Day 26: Strand

Day 27: Strand

Day 28: Strand and Cape Town

Day 29: Strand and Khayelitsha

Day 30: Strand

Day 31: Strand and Cape Town

Day 32: Strand and Cape Town

Day 33: Strand and Cape Town

Day 34: Strand and Simon's Town

Day 35: Strand and Cape Town

Day 36: Strand and Cape Town

Day 37: Strand

Day 38: Strand and Khayelitsha

Day 39: Strand and Stellenbosch

Day 40: Strand, Cape Town, and Somerset West

Day 41: Strand, Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Sandton

Day 42: Sandton

Day 43: Sandton, Pretoria, and Centurion

Day 44: Sandton

Day 45: Sandton

Day 46: Sandton

Day 47: Sandton and Johannesburg

Day 48: Sandton, Pretoria, and Johannesburg

Day 49: London, Chicago, and Home

Summary of our Time in South Africa found here.

South Africa: Day 49, London, Chicago, and Home

Tuesday, February 23 (continued from Day 48)

Even with the lights off at 2:00 AM, it was hard to get to sleep. The plane was unnaturally warm and people seemed to have been revived by their ridiculously late dinner. Tisetso was definitely ready for sleep, so we, for the first time ever, had to figure out how to get this kid to sleep within the 2.5 square feet we all resided in. He didn’t want to stretch out, so he tried sitting up for a few hours. He kept waking up, which was no good. After some convincing, I suggested he lay across our laps. It took a little maneuvering, but he ended up with his head in my lap and his feet in Brian’s. 

With that settled, I was able to actually doze off for a little bit. My sleep was interrupted by crazy turbulence over Zambia which, if you remember our flight from London to Johannesburg, I do NOT like. I got super upset at myself for being unable to fend off a panic attack. I was trying to breathe and not freak out, with a kid in my lap. I was preaching Truth to myself, but was having a hard time holding onto it when the next massive bump hit. At one point, Tisetso woke up freaking out in his sleepy stupor and with Brian sleeping, I was left to comfort a kid while freaking out myself. It went well. (Was that convincing?)

After a night of off and on sleep, we woke up at 5:30 to the breakfast carts getting pulled out. These flight attendants were going to serve us dinner and breakfast if we wanted it or not, regardless of the hour! I couldn’t believe each of us had gotten any sleep, let alone more than 10 minutes. Brian and I forewent the breakfast as we would be landing at Heathrow and wanted a proper meal. Tisetso was only interested in candy, and because it was a special occasion of traveling for 29 hours, we obliged. 

When we landed at 7:00 AM, we were ushered to another security checkpoint. Unfortunately for us, we were not on our game as far as liquids were concerned, since rules were far less stringent at our departure point. We had some medication we had to bring with us, so we were concerned about getting that through security. Our concern for that getting through caused our brains to not remember any other liquids in our luggage. Out of our three backpacks, two rolling suitcases, and one purse, only my backpack made it through without being checked. It ended up being a 45-minute delay. The poor security officer who got us was flustered, the woman in charge of the team was downright rude, and we were embarrassed and tired. It made for a lovely combination.

After the frustrating ordeal of the security checkpoint, we headed to an area with bathrooms and restaurants. We each took a turn going and changing or freshening up before grabbing breakfast. Tisetso changed out of his Ninja Turtles pajamas into warmer clothes (we were now in winter weather). Tisetso requested lunch for breakfast. I honestly didn’t care what we ate at that point, as long as it was real food! We found a spot and had instant sticker shock. After spending 6 weeks with the exchange rate insanely in our favor (17 to 1), it was painful to be on the opposite end of it all (1 to 1.5). After paying $50 for breakfast equivalent to what we would have pay $10 for in South Africa, we headed to some benches to rest. Our next flight to Chicago didn’t leave until 12:15 PM, so we had some time to rest.

At the benches, Brian laid down for a nap. Out of the three of us, he had gotten the least amount of sleep. I was tired, but occupied myself with writing. Tisetso, who was beyond tired at this point, was needing a nap. I told him if he kept his eyes closed for 10 minutes, he could play with his iPad. He was excited to prove me wrong and not fall asleep—until he did. I definitely patted myself on the back for being so awesome at this whole parenting thing.

After short naps, we checked the departures board and found (not surprisingly enough) that our gate was far, far away. We hauled our stuff onto a train and headed to an extension of the terminal. Then we trekked to the farthest reaches of the terminal to our gate. When we arrived, there was a massive sea of people. I couldn’t believe how many people were on the flight! In a moment of realization, I remembered the last time we sat at that same gate, we were headed to meet our son. It felt like things had come full circle as we sat there with our son.

Once again, our amazing kid got us priority boarding (thanks, again). We got on our last flight to home. I felt the fullness of that truth as I buckled my seat belt. My moment of zen and tranquility was abruptly interrupted by a family with three young girls getting into the two rows in front of us. The girls (and probably their parents), as we would discover over the next 7 hours, were absolute terrors. 

Our plane was on the runway, ready to take off, when the flight attendant had to come over and reprimand two of the girls in front of us. They had unbuckled and were standing and jumping on their seats. The flight attendant told them they had to buckle up and she wasn’t telling them again. I wasn’t sure who to root for. If they did buckle up, we could take off. If they didn’t, they would probably have to get off the plane. It was a tough call in my brain (even only having sat by them for 30 minutes), but they ended up sitting down and buckling. 

When we took off, I felt sad to leave England. I loved our time there before our adventure in South Africa (more to come on that later) and have always loved Great Britain. I was also super excited to get home and sleep in my bed and drive on the right side of the road and be able to buy more than two days worth of groceries at a time.

Our flight home was turbulent for about an hour and a half (ugh) and filled with those crazy girls jumping over the seats, staring at us (like staring), and screaming/yelling. It almost felt longer than the flight over the whole continent of Africa! We watched our shows, read some books and magazines, and tried to take little naps. I wasn’t too concerned with sleeping as my plan was to arrive home as tired as possible.

When we landed, I couldn’t believe it! The last time we were at O’Hare, Brian and I were just the two of us, (somewhat) ready to take on an adventure that would change our lives. We landed looking rough, with bad breath, and needing a shower. What a change!

We departed the plane and headed for the massively long immigration line. Because we had Tisetso with us, we couldn’t just hop into the fast-moving line for returning citizens. We waited for about 45 minutes in line before we were seen by a friendly border control agent. That part of it all was actually quite easy. We then had to figure out where to go to get Tisetso’s visa reviewed and approved.

After finding the right spot, we put our paperwork on a pile and sat in some seats by a desk. It seemed a little too informal to be where people were welcomed to the US. At this point, we were so tired that sitting this long was a danger to turn into nap time. While waiting, there was a woman from another country who was getting her visa reviewed. One of the guys in charge yelled at her to get her kids under control and that if she wanted to come to this country, she’d have to keep them under control. He then proceeded to swear up a storm and then went to the bathroom. It was a little nuts because her kids were really not terribly out of control, but were running around in an empty open area as kids do. I’m presuming they had been on the plane for a while and had energy to burn. I really wanted to go up to her and apologize for the idiot, but was too tired to move.

When our name was called, we went up to the counter, answered a few questions, got Tisetso's visa signed, and then were told we could go. We pushed our carts out of the arrivals gate. Because we weren’t allowed to have our cell phones on in that area, we were able to sneak up on my parents who had come to pick us up. They were so sweet and greeted Tisetso with a Batman balloon anchored by a puzzle. He loved it! 

I was so good to see them! It was really exciting to introduce my son to my parents. He was excited to finally meet them, too, as he had looked at their pictures in his family book and talked to them briefly on Skype from South Africa.

We exchanged hugs, put on winter coats because we now needed them, and headed out. With our luggage loaded, we headed into the Chicago rush hour traffic. Brian was a trooper being the designated driver while I fought to stay awake. Tisetso crashed immediately in his new carseat. 

Our only stop on our way home was to grab dinner at Portillo's. Tisetso loves hot dogs, so I knew it would be a hit. We got there around 6:30, ate our food, talked a little, but mostly stared into space. My mom and dad were staying in a hotel, so we said good night there and headed back out into the night to introduce Tisetso to his new home. Brian had been especially nervous about how he would like being in the home we love so much (scared, overwhelmed, generally opposed), but Tisetso ended up being so tired that he wasn't able to be any of those things, so that was a relief.

Posted on May 4, 2016 and filed under adoption, In-Country Time, South Africa.