Thursday saw another day of persistent rain, but Tilly and Candice wanted to walk over Westminster Bridge, through St James' Park and up to Buckingham Palace. We did the official tour last summer which was fantastic and must be revisited one day with my lovely Mum - she'd adore it.
We sploshed our way up to Hyde Park Corner and I was amazed that there was a lift right to the top of Wellington Arch - but sadly it was not operational for this visit. More work for Boris to attend to as the walk down to Knightsbridge and Harrods was rather perilous with really high steps and few dropped kerbs. However, the traffic was solid so we were pleased to be moving along quicker than the buses.
Harrods was a dream and we luxuriated our way around the ground floor, gasping at price tags and indulging our senses in the marvellous Food Halls.
We marched on to The Natural History Museum which was full to brimming and inched our way around the amazing exhibitions. The highlight was, of course, the Main Hall which is a splendid feature in itself. We were delighted to be scooped up by a Museum official who guided us to the exit of the dinosaur exhibition past a very, very long queue, and we meandered our way through ages of prehistoric time. More than awe-inspiring!
We then pushed our way on to the Science Museum which is only next door and was so very much easier to get around with large walkways and fewer people. The exhibits were fascinating and Rolf was particularly delighted to see a replica Apollo 10 Luna Landing Capsule and alongside his old Chopper bike! It was riveting, and like all museums and art galleries need to be visited again and again.
We then made our way up to the Albert Hall, marvelled at its beauty, and were aghast at the shocking access to the opposite pavement and found ourselves having to walk a long way around to get to the bus stop on the other side - (in the pouring rain, Boris)!
The bus ride back to Charing Cross Station was very welcome, warm and dry. I just can't get over the blast of Tilly being able to jump on and off any bus that comes along. We had supper in Garfunkles and made our way home across the Jubilee Bridge and to our amazement the rain stopped, the sky cleared and the moon shone bright. Perfect conditions for a night ride on the London Eye! It was truly amazing, with not a queue in sight, and arguably more enjoyable than a day trip?
We did have a short blast of a false fire alarm on Thursday night which made me feel pleased that we'd taken along Tilly's all-terrain manual buggy - made me wonder what we would do without it if we had to get down six flights of stairs in a hurry?
We had a rude awakening the next morning with a much longer, more convincing fire alarm. I leaped out of the bath, Rolf threw open the buggy and I disconnected Tilly's ventilator and monitor and whilst Candice jumped into her boots over her pyjamas. As I was wrapping Tilly in the duvet ready to transport her down the fire escape the bell stopped ringing and we confirmed with reception that it was another false alarm. My heart has only just stopped racing and will certainly make me more wary for future travel evacuation procedures.
With respite from the rain we walked over to Convent Garden, with Tilly managing to negotiate a few treacherous crossings near the market place to meet up with Rolf's brother, Uncle Frank and his wife Auntie Pat. It is amazing and commendable to think that the local Highways Agency managed to drop every kerb from Tilly's house to her first school and a shame to think that such highly visited tourist areas can remain overlooked in a few critical places.
However, once in Covent Garden there is only one place that we Griffiths like to go and that is the Crusting Pipe on the lower level of the market. You need to have an employee to escort you to a lift and then come along, 'underneath the arches', and come out on the terrace of the Crusting Pipe. From here, we enjoyed delicious wine and food and were serenaded by a stream of outstanding opera singers and musicians. There is never a lunch quite like it.
We then wriggled down to the river and caught the wonderful Thames Clipper at the Embankment right up to Tower Bridge. We were so delighted that we could access all areas and found ourselves strolling across the high level walkway, drinking in the views and the exhibition. Rolf and I could never have dreamed when we ran over this iconic bridge during the London Marathons of 95 and 96 that we would be on the upper walkway with our lovely little girls some ten years later. What a journey we've had!
Following a trip to the 'oily bits' of the engine room of Tower Bridge we all made our way to meet up with cousins Martin and John and their partners, Fran and Lindsay for an evening meal at the Strada - a very classy, glass-fronted Italian restaurant commanding outstanding views of the Tower. We felt very 'posh' indeed, and Tilly was looking forward to showing off her 'arm-sling' skills and independence to her family.
What I haven't mentioned was that in the drama of last evening's fire alarm we forgot to switch on the charger for Tilly's powerchair and she was now running on 'empty', and in serious danger of grinding to a complete halt. Fortunately we had taken the charger with us and the restaurant were more than happy to charge the chair, but the power point was nowhere near our table! Not daunted, Tilly was rather chuffed to be carried to the table and try sitting on one of the elegant benches, however she was placed between Mummy and Daddy and being helped to eat! Not quite what she'd had in mind! Fortunately after about half an hour the chair was ready for Tilly to regain her full independence and take her place up the girls' end of the table and catch up on all the news and enjoy her meal by without being fed. Such simple pleasures!
Another joy of the evening was jumping on the Thames Clipper and cruising back to our hotel along the twinkling River Thames - just love this way of getting around as the views are more inspiring than the London underground. Perhaps things have improved since we last tried, but the few Tube stations that were accessible were not on our route, so we didn't even investigate this time - may be next time we'll give it another try as I'm sure Tilly and Candice would enjoy the experience of rattling along at high speeds in dark tunnels!
Check-out on Saturday was a leisurely twelve o'clock, so we had plenty of time to have breakfast and reload the car. We waved a fond farewell to Peni, one of the Hotel Managers, who had once again helped out with the luggage, vowing to return and headed back up to the frozen north.
The poosies danced on the patio upon our return, and it felt lovely to be back in snowy Staffordshire. After many hours of unloading and re-installing of the machines, Rolf served a small sweet vermouth on ice with a slice of lime; we had pasta for tea 'like a proper family for once'; and we all collapsed in a heap on the couch in front of the box!
As I drifted into unconsciousness I heard Rolf say, "I think we pulled it off!" I think we just might have! Half-term Heaven 'done!'