So…Remember those clothes we took to the cleaner back on Wednesday when Monki got sick in the car? It wasn’t just a wash and fold, it was actually a dry-cleaner and they said they could get them back for us Friday night or Saturday morning. Since way back then we didn’t know what was going to be happening, I opted for the Saturday morning option. Now, here we were on Saturday morning, up and ready to go out for the day, except we had to wait until at least 9am so we could make sure to get our clothes.
What to do?
We decided to take a walk through Valentines Park which was across the street from the hotel. I should pause for a moment and say a word about Ilford. As tourists, it’s the ass-end of nowhere. To get anywhere of touristic importance is at least an hour by public transport. We had actually thought about going to visit my friend Sean (brilliant magician and all around Stormtrooper) who lives near Southampton, but the easy 90 minute train ride from Waterloo Station would have been proceeded by another hour in order just to getto Waterloo, and since we still weren’t sure how Monki was going to be on such a long trip, we declined the generous offer.
That all said, as a neighborhood, Ilford seems quite lovely. And this park is one of the reasons. We only saw a small part of it and were suitably impressed. This morning, as we were walking through, I spotted a squirrel. Of course, I did what any grown-ass adult does anytime they see wildlife actually in the wild.
I shouted “Squirrel!”
Monki was suitably impressed. But then I did something even better for her (and to Rasa’s amazement as well). I coaxed the little fella over to us. Then, while it waited, I reached into our bag and grabbed a piece of bagel Monki was finished with and offered it up. The squirrel, who had been patiently sitting still, hesitantly moved forward and grabbed the bagel from my hand. Then it ran up the nearest tree and, hanging from its rear legs, ate the thing. Great way to start the day!
Then, as we moved around the little lake, we kept seeing a number of runners. This isn’t in itself unusual but the further we went, the more the runners seemed to be congregating. Turns out, this was a gathering for Park Run, an organization which sets up weekly 5k runs all over the world, all on Saturdays at 9am. We were there just before 9 so had a chance to chat with a lovely couple, the husband of which was participating while his wife was just there to cheer him on. Such a cool, community type of thing. We laughed about how this would never happen in Lithuania, which is really a shame, because it looks like a lot of fun! I would certainly join up if someone decided to organize it here.
Watching the runners take off meant it was past 9, so the laundry would be open. Sure enough, it was so we got our clothes and headed towards the train station for the day’s adventures.
Since we weren’t going to Southampton, and we weren’t going to the zoo, we had decided to try out this place called Mudchute Farms that Lin had told us about. She had described it as a sort of free petting zoo, so we figured it was worth a shot. When we had looked it up on the map, it turned out to be on the Isle of Dogs (no relation to the film) and right across the river from Greenwich. So our plan was to go to the farm and then take the underwater tunnel across and see what we could in Greenwich.
It was a good plan. Obviously, like all good plans, it was open for amendment. By the time we actually made it (after switching trains twice) to the farm, Monki was almost asleep, so we decided to change it up and headed under the river first. Naturally, though, we had to make a quick stop for ice cream.
Inside the shop, while I waited to pay, there was a fascinating neighborhood event taking place in line in front of me. Now, remember, it’s about 11 in the morning. There was a Scottish guy wanting to buy a bottle of liquor. He only had enough for a small bottle, but managed to convince the clerk to sell him the larger bottle by reminding him that A) he was a local and B) even though he was £3 short, he would repay £5. This negotiation actually took a bit of time and finesse, since the clerk originally only wanted to accept precisely what he was owed and the guy, who was probably already a few sheets into the wind, insisted on handing over the fiver when the next day, when he once again had money. I love seeing this kind of thing. In the end, everyone was happy. The guy got the bottle and acceptance of paying what was essentially the vig on the loan and the clerk was able to continue working after getting several hugs and a few comments about the football. Perfect!
Then Rasa and I were able to enjoy our ice cream while staring out over the water at Greenwich and trying to figure out how a massive cruise ship made it this far up the river. Finally, it was time to tackle the tunnel. I’d heard about it, but never before had I walked the length. It’s a bit of an eerie feeling to walk under the river, especially when you can feel the droplets of water as you pass (yes, these are probably from condensation and not leakage, but where’s the fun in that?). On the other side, in Greenwich, we walked around for a bit and then decided that as long as Monki was still asleep, we’d try to get to the observatory and if nothing else, check out the Prime Meridian.
Remember what I said a few paragraphs back about plans? Yup. Half way up the hill, while strolling through a beautiful tree-covered lane, who should wake up, and in a foul mood at that? You guessed it! So not only did we not make it to the Observatory, but we were able to spend a good ten minutes enduring the pitiful stares of passers-by while our little one shrieked her head off. This is the price you pay for the good times.
Once she calmed down, though, we headed down that same tree-lined walk to the National Maritime Museum, which, per our excellent new plan, had free entrance. We had a delicious lunch in the café (seriously good – well, my sandwich was good, Rasa’s mac and cheese had a weird crumble on top but underneath that it was delicious) and then wandered the museum itself for a few minutes. Our faith in not paying entrance fees was again rewarded as Monki really wasn’t interested in looking at figureheads (she was actually a bit freaked out) or other boat related artifacts (she did, however, like the soft, squishy globe in the gift shop – balls are another of her favorite things – so if you’re keeping track: balls, clocks, and flags).
By now, she was ready to go back under the water and head to the farm. That passage is really something. I was just as impressed walking back. I also loved the signs everywhere which said there was to be absolutely no riding of bicycles anywhere along the path. I just wish I had pictures of every damn cyclist who rode past those signs with impunity. There was also a busker but the echoing acoustics didn’t really suit his music.
The Mudchute Farm wasn’t really a petting zoo. Instead, it was more a volunteer-run commune-style nature preserve where larger farm animals were kept in pens close enough to the walkways that one could reach in and pet them if one so desired. Monki did not so desire. She was fine with the chickens and roosters and even the rabbits, but the goats and sheep scared her just a little bit. We tried a few times to help her pet them, but she was having none of it. We also took the opportunity to spend some time in the shade drinking water at the farm’s café courtyard. Rasa was feeling a bit tired and we just happened to hit London during a crazy heat wave so making sure dehydration didn’t occur was a high priority. In the courtyard was a small merry-go-round. Monki and I tried to go on that, but only got as far around as when Mommy disappeared from view behind us before the little one freaked out and we had to stop the ride to get her off.
I like to think it was a combination of heat and tired rather than she only wanted mommy, but I’m only dad, so what do I know. We did take that as a sign, however, and figured now was as good a time as any to begin the trek back to Ilford. As opposed to the last time we were in London together, we knew going in we weren’t going to be the mad-dash tourists we had been so we were prepared for early days and light schedules. Also, as Rasa pointed out, there was so much construction being done (Big Ben was covered in scaffolding for instance) that she was glad we’d seen all the big tourist stuff last time.
Back in Ilford, we wondered where we should go for dinner. Having done Titanic twice it seemed only fair to give another local establishment a chance. The problem was that it wasn’t really dinner time quite yet. So instead, in order to get out of the heat, we popped into the Ilford Exchange, a mall right across from the train station. We did not expect it to be as big as it was. It really was a mall! So while staying out of the heat, we bought Monki a couple of outfits on sale at H&M (even the full price stuff was cheaper than it is in Lithuania) and I got the screen on my phone fixed (also cheaper and in less time than in LT).
Now it really was dinner time and the first place we passed on our walk home was called the Pie Factory. How could we refuse? So we popped in for dinner. When they say “pie,” they mean like pot pie and that’s what I had. Amazing stuff. Rasa and Monki shared a kid’s meal portion of chicken and chips that was also quite tasty. I did have one rather sobering moment though. The world cup is currently going on and England had played a match earlier in the day. So while we were eating, a couple of cars drove by with England flags (the red cross on a field of white, NOT the union jack), creaming and honking their horns. I looked around the restaurant and saw two other tables with dinner guests. One held two guys, maybe a father and older teenage son. The other, three women in hijabs (evidently Ilford has a large Muslim population). I asked randomly if England had won today’s match and, as I was expecting, one of the guys responded. What I wasn’t expecting was his response – complete and total ignorance there was a match today. He wasn’t even sure what sport we were talking about. Then one of the young women chimed in with an affirmative answer to my question and expanded that by also letting me know the final score. There’s something when you get kicked in the face with your own preconceptions. I thanked her and knew I had stuff to think about.
But the kicker came when we tried to order dessert. Rasa had noticed the desserts as soon as we’d gotten the menus and as we finished our main courses, I tried to order a dessert for her.
No go. I didn’t quite understand the owner when he said “holiday.” I didn’t know it was a holiday (it was in Lithuania, but that was more local). Then I figured it out. Seems the dessert chef was on holiday and rather than serve frozen or sub-par offerings, they just forewent dessert until he returned. Now that is dedication.
The problem, of course, is now we still wanted dessert. Luckily, a few doors down from the Pie Factory was an ice cream place. We ordered three scoops, one for each of us, and I don’t know if the woman behind the counter thought we were nice, felt bad for us because we looked exhausted or treated everyone this way, but we got some of the largest “single” scoops I’ve ever seen. Monki got hers in a cone and we didn’t get very far away before I had to run back and get her a cup as well because there was no way she was going to eat even a small fraction of it before it started melting.
We ate as we walked back to the hotel, an end to a really nice day.