Matthias had a dream one of the days earlier this year in January when we were still living in Singapore. He told us we will be spending Christmas in a place he can see snow. I told him "we'll see..." but deep inside this jaded old man I knew the math didn't add up and scoffed at the idea. A man of little faith I am....
Moving across the world
If you've done any form of moving you'll know that it is an excruciating process. Moving light makes it easier but moving an entire family is anything but light or easy. We made it a point to offload all the things that we won't want to ship over in future and only stored the important things. I'm still in disbelief that we actually stuffed our lives in 3 cabin sized suitcases and a larger suitcase. We've realised time and time again how little we actually NEED to live a comfortable life.
"Are you excited?" "OMG you've been dreaming of going home to the UK for so long!". To be very honest, I felt nothing. I was too busy to feel anything. I loved meeting people that mattered to us for the entire week prior to flying off but I was numb. The mind didn't seem to register that it was actually happening.
"THE DREAMLINER" the kids exclaimed. At this point my mind was fixated on the gargantuan task of surviving flying with two kids aged 5 and 8 for 14 hours. My anxiety quickly dissipated when we settled into our seats.
These two digital natives instantly took to the inflight entertainment. This was their first time flying a full fare airline. We've only flown budget airlines across South-East Asia with them. I was pleasantly surprised they were able to operate the system with no instruction whatsoever. We kept the kids up as long as we could to ensure they could at least start syncing their sleep times to the UK's time.
As the aircraft descended through thick clouds and the suburban landscapes of Hounslow appeared, we were greeted with amazing sight. The roofs of houses and cars were covered with snow! I immediately felt myself involuntarily smiling. It felt like homecoming. 12 years ago when I departed London, it was in the middle of a cold snap. 12 years later, we were now in the middle of a cold snap. As the reverse thrust slowed the plane down, it finally felt real.
All 4 luggage made it safely and we dragged ourselves from Heathrow's Terminal 5 to Terminal 4 via a free underground transfer. If you are visiting London and want to save some money on accommodation+ your sanity, I'd highly recommend really nice hotels like Crowne Plaza, Sofitel, and Hilton in Heathrow. These hotels are directly connected to the airport terminals which means you can catch a rest without having to immediately travel into central London after a 14 hour flight. They also cost at least 50% off the price of the SAME hotels in central London. With the brand new Elizabeth line now connecting Heathrow to London Paddington in under 30 minutes (at Underground prices not Heathrow Express prices), staying near the airport when visiting London is no hassle now compared to the rickety old Piccadilly line tube trains. (those took more than an hour)
We used our platinum status on Agoda to score some really good prices for Hilton at Heathrow Terminal 4. It is connected to the terminal via covered linkway. The rooms were quite the normal 4 star standards but they were really quiet. Every single member of staff we encountered were attentive, energetic and polite. We really enjoyed the variety at the breakfast buffet. They even served our kids gluten free bread when we requested for some in faith. It was amazing :)
We really struggled a little the first day going from +30 to -2 degree celcius. The kids actually wanted to go back to the hotel because it was "too cold". But they were constantly exclaiming when they saw the leftover snow the piled up around central London. It was a little like saying I'd like an ice-cream that's a little warm?!
I explained that our bodies needed some time before it got into the mode of producing more warmth. The only way was to rough it out in the cold until the bodies went into winter mode. Hiding is never the answer. True enough, they got really used to it within a day! My eczema that flared up after we returned to Singapore for a short while suddenly disappeared after a couple of days in the freezing weather. Just not built for the tropics!
The kids were promised that if we ever got to London before Christmas, they'll visit the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. I'm so thankful we managed to fulfil that promise. Inside, there are many fair rides, a real ice skating rink, burgers, sausages, mulled wine and Christmas fairs. The scale of it just made it fantastical to walk through.
Too add on to the Christmas cheer, we took our time to enjoy Oxford street for the Christmas lights, chocolates and Hamleys (5 stories of amazing TOYS. Even I got excited just being there.
I must say that the kids struggled to stay awake for the first couple of days as we adjusted to the UK time. It was tough, Gwyn even walked with her eyes closed. Jet-lagging is hard but they did enjoy the city!
I don't usually say I like cities. But I've grown fond of London over the years. That is mostly because of its charm. This charm is the coexistence of the ancient and modern architecture and spaces. The modern buildings are built AROUND what is already there. Just take a look at these shots...
There's just something about the Brits and keeping old things. When there are places where generations of Brits, migrants and their descendants can make shared memories, it connects the generations to their shared history. That develops a sense of place and a sense of belonging. It a beautiful thing.
Another beautiful thing about London is how new stories are always written about old places! You have the Harry Potter's platform 9 3/4, Paddington bear at Paddington station and Andy's prehistoric adventures at the Natural History Museum. These places capture the imagination of people all over the world.
We tried out best to show our kids the best of London. But to be honest, we've not even scratched the surface. There's still much more to see. We'll definitely be back in London on weekends when we are free.
After just 4 days, we drove a 100 miles to where we'd be living long term and started the dreaded unpacking business. Setting up a home is pretty much as exhausting as moving. We'll continue to chronicle our odd lives here in the UK!
We'll just leave you with this little anecdote....
Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.
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