Family weekends are (usually) for relaxing, enjoying the time together, for getting closer and getting to know each other more, building closer bonds of friendship and sharing. That can be easy at home, where the house is set out to suit and time together or apart relaxing is easy to get. It’s much harder with a weekend in a Travelodge in London on a strict budget. It does take some thinking through.
We had a long family weekend away, and only returned early enough on Sunday to eat and enjoy Poldark (another great example of family hygge: we drink warm drinks and enjoy the drama, in full knowledge that we are safe from mine disasters, unscrupulous bankers out to defraud us of our inheritence or, as in last night, someone hitting on a wife and forcing us to fight a duel) after a reasonably good journey up on the M6.
London is not a city obviously built for relaxing. It’s fast, crowded, full of strange sights and sounds (mostly harmless) and there’s always just one more place to go, see or be a part of. We were only there for two and a half days, so no time at all, really. Add to that the cost that goes with eating out, drinks or meals and it can be a stressful few days.
I don’t like stress, I don’t like feeling rushed and I don’t like having my chill disturbed, so I work hard in London to keep myself, and those around me, calm and relaxed.
It’s fortunate that we’ve all been to London before, and spent days doing all the tourist sights so that mad push to see Trafalgar Square, get to Downing Street, see the guards at Buckingham Palace or whatever tourist sights you fancy didn’t need to be done. I think we used Charing Cross underground station, which comes up in Trafalgar Square, but it was more for the convenience of it being on the Bakerloo line and not needing to change trains than because we wanted the square. This weekend we found ourselves looking further afield.
Skygarden is a free-to-access garden built at the top of the Walkie Talkie building at 20 Fenchurch Street. You have to book in advance, and tickets are only released 2 weeks in advance, so good timing helps, but it does yield the most spectacular views out over the city.
There’s nothing like a good blast of greenery, coupled with being 35 floors up to put life into perspective. If only the Prosecco hadn’t been £10 a glass, I might have been tempted to sip one and feel totally decadent. As it was, we drank the coke and water we’d brought with us, and enjoyed a view of the city which, for the price we didn’t pay, was well worth the effort.
Skygarden also lands you back down to Earth in the business centre of London, rather than the tourist traps. On a warm Friday afternoon at 3pm, it can be an education just wandering around and seeing the suited peeps enjoying a drink and a lot of chat in the many little bars and bistros around there. Were they on a working lunch? Or knocked off early for the weekend? Whatever: it was an interesting look at a different side of the business world.
Flying Tiger has a shop in Leadenhall Market, just a short walk away. Having heard a load about this store, and not having one currently near me, we visited and passed a happy half hour or more spending silly amounts of money on silly things (some of which are packed away for Christmas). When a wind-it-yourself fan is only £1, everybody gets to have one. What the husband will make of the loud hailer Sarah chose for herself, I have no idea. We’ll find out at bedtime tonight when she asks for hot chocolate.
With a cosy corner table burger meal in Gourmet Burger Kitchen, the day was (almost) complete.
Time for a confession: I have two teenage sons. Sometimes the things they like are not…. well, let’s put it this way. Candles and cosy throws are all very well, but if I expect to have them sitting (standing) and enjoying time with me, occasionally we have to push the boundary of cosy. I like to think of it as the hygge time that families must have had in the old days, when gathered around their fireplaces and listening to Grandpa tell ghost stories as the wind rustled the leaves outside.
Friday night was spent on an excellent London Walk, one we’ve been meaning to do for ages and actually saved until we were all together as a family treat: The Jack The Ripper Walk. It sounds bizarre to say we really enjoyed wandering around after Richard Walker, an actor, listening to the stories of murders that happened over 130 years ago. But we did. Jack the Ripper is such a fascinating story, probably because he came and went so quickly within the space of a few months, and yet the tales of his grisly crimes are still told. It’s like the modern day bogey man. Like we act as if it couldn’t happen today… all the time knowing that it could so easily happen any day, and that human nature doesn’t change so quickly. I won’t drop any spoilers… only to say that if you want to do the walk, the London Walks are always excellent, with knowledgeable guides and an insight into London that you wouldn’t get as a walker yourself.
Saturday, and time for a beautifully hygge experience: The Globe Theatre on the Southwark side of the city is small, wooden and forces people to sit close to each other. We didn’t attend a performance, but were there for a small part of the rehearsal. I have seen Mark Rylance speak several lines on the Globe stage. I am content. I love Shakespeare, so for me this is a brilliant place to visit to get a picture of what London was like in the Olden Days. The exhibition is good, and the tour (even if silent, due to rehearsals) is such a good source of information. Lunch and on to the only thing that really cost megabucks: The London Bridge Experience.
For the five of us, the Experience cost just under £100, but this was the big treat of the weekend for our children, and compares favourably to other similar exhibits in London. It’s a gruesome history lesson and then a zombie maze. Scary, in other words. Very scary, if you’re the poor sap at the back of the line and likely to get jumped out at by every zombie down there. I screamed, and I laughed, and I screamed some more. By the end, I’d begun anticipating when the next jump scare would be and, I’m proud to say, screamed so loudly at the last Zombie that he backed off with an expletive. Job done. Yes, I scare the monsters away.
It was very good fun, except if you don’t like loud noises, flashing lights and being scared. It’s definitely not suitable for those of a nervous disposition, and I wouldn’t have taken mine anywhere near there before the age of 14 or 15. But for horror fans and those in need of a good scream, it’s a safe place to go. You know the zombies aren’t real, but just for a few minutes of time (say, 15 or 20) your brain is left wondering if the hands coming towards you in the dark are alive or dead…. the zombies don’t touch on an ordinary trip to hell and back, but at Halloween, all rules are laid aside, so I’m guessing that’s even scarier.
Nothing is more relaxing than knowing a scary experience is absolutely over, so coming back out into the daylight again was a huge relief. And nothing bonds a family better than a shared experience. I’d go again…. just not at Halloween. It’s hygge, just not as you usually know it.
But then, that is hygge, isn’t it? Different for different people and in different situations? What makes our family draw together and laugh, love and enjoy the moment is by necessity different from what makes other families feel cosy. Neither is right or wrong, and both views are valid.
Hygge and happiness go so well together. If you’d like to read about the small things that have helped me to be happier, my new book is available from Amazon. Happier is all about how to use the small details in life to make you happier. You can get it at Amazon. I also think the principles of enjoying life and making the most of small details is an important part of hygge and that runs through my first few books as well. You can find details about all my books, and how to connect with me on social media on the Start Here page of my blog.