The Black Cab dropped us on the footpath on Queensborough Terrace and drove off, leaving us to find No.72… We can see numbers 74 and 76, but for some reason our map tells us we are standing outside the Latvian embassy. But there is also a sign for a guest house. And things in Latvian (I suppose. I’m not expert.). We ring the bell and a woman answers, motioning us to come in. We follow her into a slightly dingy, carpeted hallway and into an office. A sign reads “reception”, but it really, really looks like an office. My brain goes “Oh-ohhh”.
“Yes, yes, you are in right place!”, the woman smiles. “Room 2 for 5 people!” She shows us the breakfast room (lino, pine furniture, kitch prints on the wall) and takes us up a flight of stairs to room 2. It’s a bright, clean room with enough space to comfortably fit a queen size bed, a single and 2 bunk beds, a wardrobe and a desk, as well as a kettle to make your own tea and coffee. The bathroom is small, but functional. Water pressure is great – one should never underestimate the seductive power of good plumbing… The bedding is good. The breakfast is simple but good. The location is excellent.
It turns out that the building was indeed the Latvian embassy until about 10 years ago, and is now the Latvian Welfare Center which also rents out rooms. It ain’t the Ritz, but it does the job. It’s called 72QT and is a hop, skip, and jump from Hyde Park, off Bayswater Road. We paid £150 per night, and that included a full English breakfast. That’s unbeatable value. (Use the promotion code. You get another tenner off.)
“Are we going to see the Queen now?” The seven-year-old is going to say this a lot this weekend. I should add that we watched the new (bland) Minions film the evening before, and QE2 had a starring role. “Later…”, I say.
We drop our things and head out. Hyde Park is on the other side of the street. We cross it to get to Knightsbridge – Hubby needs to look through the food court at Harrod’s for work. My boys walk through the streets with their mouths agape. They have never seen that many luxury cars in their lives. Just as one of them speaks up to tell me this, we round a corner and come to a sudden stop in front of a wholly gold-plated Ferrari, parked along the curb, just like that. Their jaws hit the floor.
What is the point of Harrod’s? I remember a friend of mine giving me a gift voucher for £100 when I was a teenager. £100! A fortune! I came back down to earth when I realized, once in the shop, that I would only be able to pay for a Harrod’s mug and 50g of special blend Earl Grey tea for that money. The Ladurée café on the pavement in front of one of the exits is full of very polished, very veiled ladies and gangs of young men in casual wear, with the occasional full-on sheikh in their midst. We wander through the store. Sure, the food court is full of top-notch nosh and pretty pastries, but at such outrageous prices that it takes away all my joy.
“Are we going to see the Queen now?” Not exactly. We walk and walk, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of London. Feet are aching (not mine), stomachs rumbling (not mine), shin bones sting (not mine), back muscles are pinched (not mine) – OH FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE IT’S LIKE TRAVELLING WITH A BUNCH OF GRANNIES AND STILL, THEY WOULD COMPLAIN LESS! Around yet another corner and now it’s Mum who stops in her tracks: we’re standing in front of Ottolenghi’s Belgravia shop. I go in. It’s nearly closing time. I buy nothing – we’re about to go for dinner. I look, and smile happily, slightly in awe, I ask if I can take a photo.
The recurring theme when it comes to food this weekend is that I don’t have time to take any pictures before most of it is eaten. That’s travelling with kids for you. Another thing is that I realize that my husband and I don’t have the same take on what this actually means. He wants to take me to fabulous places – we sip South African chardonnay and eat outrageously expensive fusion finger food at Zuma – with three boys asking if they can have chips. Of course they want chips. Also, travelling with kids means jeans, runners and backpacks, not Chanel, Louboutins, or even blow-dried hair. I feel frumpy and provincial (and seriously out of my league), but the food is delicious.
“Are we going to see the Queen now?” Ugh. “YES!” We do the Hop On Hop Off tour and see everything from Buckingham Palace to Saint Paul’s cathedral. We visit the Tower of London and do the Beefeater tour. We see Anne Boleyn. Wrong queen, but they love the crown jewels.
Dinner is another child-friendly affair – NOT. Hubby takes us to Zaika at 1, Kensington High Street, a very, very nice Indian restaurant in a beautifully restored building (and sister restaurant to Michelin-starred Tamarind of Mayfair). I come armed with pens, paper, and other stuff to keep the boys from misbehaving. We order curries, naans, rice, gin and tonics… They want chips. The food is divine. And again, I don’t have time to snap the food before it’s half gone.
A young Indian couple at the table beside ours compliment me on our children’s behaviour as I get up to leave. “We aren’t parents yet, but we just got a great lesson in parenting.”, they tell me. I smile and thank them. Then I thank the gods that let them arrive one short minute after I got Pierre to release Liam out of a headlock over who could sit in the middle.
I love London.