London for children
Our London holiday was enjoyable. On the second day, after we had recovered from our sleepless night, after my brother-in-law finally agreed to set his watch for local time, we decided to take my niece to the zoo, which I had been hoping she would like, mostly because I wanted to go.
My niece, little Eftychia, all smiles, and looking more like a five-year-old than the four-year-old she is, was fortunately mistaken for a three-year-old by the man at the gate, who it seems might have been new to the job and has not seen very many toddlers or might need some new glasses, so instead of paying the usual price of an arm and a leg, we paid much less (just the arm).
Near the entrance, a couple of meerkats were fighting in their enclosure, while another stood on a little hill looking out. A man next to me took out a giant camera with a telescopic lens as big as a telegraph pole and started taking snapshots, but I had left my camera behind in the rush to leave in time, so I spent the rest of the day sulking about the shot I never managed to take.
Slowly, we walked past the Cape hunting dogs, the warthogs and to the giraffe, which, as we had to tell my niece, we were, sadly, not allowed to stroke. In one part of the zoo, we passed by some trees either side of us, while little squirrel monkeys balanced above us, climbing up the trees and scampering from tree to tree via ropes that were hanging above us.
For most of us, that was the highlight of the day. For my niece, it came a distant fourth to the bouncy castle, the bouncy slide shaped like a colossal giraffe and the elephant merry-go-round.
We then spent half and hour and small fortune having sandwiches whose prices can only be justified if they contained gold leaves for lettuce and were prepared by supermodels. We also went to the shop, where my niece wanted to buy a cuddly toy bunny, a giant handcrafted wooden giraffe and a giant handcrafted cuddly toy panda.
The next day we spent much of the afternoon with a Taiwanese friend of mine. Before dinner, we visited the Trocadero, where four responsible and usually sane adults asked Eftychia if she wanted to go on one of those bungee-trampoline things where the child bounces higher than a two-story building while its parents have a massive heart attack. We asked the man who was there, who, we were sure, knew what he was doing because he was wearing a badge with his name written on, if it was safe for toddlers and “Tataki”, which is me, begged him to not let the child go very high.
My niece was having a whale of a time, while we were all biting our nails pretending to be happy too. We managed to take a few pictures, but on close inspection, we are not even sure if the blurry blob whizzing past in the snapshots is my niece or a UFO that somehow lost its way.
Of course we all knew it was safe, but the older you grow the more fearful you become. At ten I went on one particular ride, where you sit in a little train speeding down a man-made mountain, and didn’t want it to end. Five year later, on the same ride, I sat there in the little wagon, hunched up, wondering how exactly I would die- decapitation, heart attack, aneurysm, the possibilities seemed endless. But at four, something like this might be great fun; I don’t know. For my niece, it even beat the bouncy castle.
Later were lucky enough to find a Chinese Restaurant on the edge of Chinatown that served Dim Sum in the evening and my niece, still smiling, sat with us as we tried to work out what she could have to eat. The Dim Sum was brought round on trolleys and we picked and chose, but my niece wasn’t interested in the dumplings, even though we tried to convince her that they were just like ‘makaronakia’.
Sometimes you have to wonder whether toddlers eat anything at all- perhaps they feed on modeling clay and Pooh bears- but my niece did us proud in the end. She is usually willing to eat anything, so long as it is boiled spaghetti chopped into little pieces, boiled rice with yogurt or fruit sorbet, but she did have fried rice and half a Chinese sausage as well. Next trip we take I’m going to have her try sushi.
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