LONDON: Day out

St Paul's cathedral, London

By Tim Saunders

A day out in London’s going to be expensive. Right?
Wrong. Well, you’re not going to have much fun then… Not so.
My family and I live in Hampshire, under 100 miles away from the capital. One Sunday we get in the car and see what awaits us in the city. And we are pleasantly surprised.
With two little daughters dictating what happens and when, we can end up feeling frustrated that our days do not show many achievements. Arriving in London at gone 1pm we expect this is probably going to be another of those occasions.
We park near Southwark and are surprised to find free road side parking. The weather is cloudy and overcast but there is a distinct air of calm about the place; not something that I have previously associated with the capital. It could be because most of the city types have packed up and taken their leave and now the tourists are in charge. As we amble down the road a scruffy Spaniard asks if we are locals and where hotel Ibis is. Unfortunately his pronunciation of Ibis sounds much more like Ritz to me and I cannot help but Caroline assures me he is looking for Hotel Ibis and that it’s just round the corner.
Anyway, when in town we always like to head for Covent Garden, the area near all the theatres and the cultural heart of London in many ways. Fortunately, the grey skies are clearing; a sunny day is finally ours. Eldest daughter Harriett (two-and-a-half years) really does not like sitting in the front of our tandem pushchair and behind her sister Heidi (six months) seems to be getting the same idea. So for much of the way we carry our little ones while trying to push this monstrous buggy along London’s streets. But then Harriett decides to walk. “Wee wees,” she soon exclaims. Our hearts used to sink on such occasions but since we became the proud owners of a Carry Potty our nightmares have been banished. It does become dangerously full though by the end of the day.
Covent Garden is no more than five miles from where we have parked and we arrive, it seems, just as the afternoon’s entertainment is getting in full swing. Harriett instantly sits on the warm cobbles and beckons us to join her. It’s not long before an Australian Houdini takes centre stage and mesmerises us all as you can see in the Houdini video above. An afternoon of completely free street entertainment follows, featuring everything from jugglers to comics. It really makes us realise what a richness of talent we have access to and that London is the venue for showcasing this. We’ve paid to see shows in theatres that were not even half as good as what we have just seen. Caroline’s mum and dad reckon they have seen these very acts in Florence, so perhaps they travel around the world wowing audiences. As we head back to our car with our spirits high we all become a hungry.
We decide to be extravagant and pop into a restaurant. Even here we are to be surprised. Vapiano in Southwark, specialises in affordable Mediterranean dishes. Usually in London you’ll have to go a very long way to find a decent main meal in convivial surroundings for under £10 but this is Vapiano’s forte. There’s a good selection of dishes and the interior is spacious and comfortable. Because it’s self service with all items charged to a single debit style card, the price point has been brought right down. “You either love it or loath it,” says matter of fact manager Alex Poynter. Generally this type of experience appeals to the younger generation who demand good quality food coupled with a keen price, he explains. The older generation struggle with the concept because they expect waiter service. No matter what your viewpoint it’s a great experience with polite and courteous staff and food that is prepared in front of your very eyes in lightning quick speed. Fortunately it stays open till late, which is just as well. After having drinks outside we then move to the dining area for our handmade brochette and spaghetti Bolognese interrupted only by little Harriett requiring six toilet breaks! She likes the taps and the large mirrors in the lavatory. We then sit in the lounge style area for our lattes and desserts. In total four hours; the longest we have ever spent in a restaurant. “Do you know what the Vapiano motto is?” asks Alex. No I don’t. “Relax and live long.”
Our day in London certainly sees us relax and that is probably the biggest surprise of all.

Recommended places to visit:

Covent Garden
Vapiano, Southwark
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