London 2023: Dinosaurs, Frozen and Camden Town (and a little about my sensory overload experience)

This is part two (of four!) of our recent trip to London. Read about our arrival here. Andrew had a multi-day conference during our first week, so Maelle and I had a few days on our own. Last year, we spent most of our time at the Rotten Row playground having picnic lunches, but this year the weather wasn’t going to cooperate for that.

We started with breakfast at the hotel: Nutella pancakes! (Really more like a crepe.) We LOVE our hotel (Kinsington Marriott, and the wait staff at breakfast could not have been kinder. )

We did visit Rotten Row Playground (for old time’s sake!), and even endured a chilly lunch (she insisted!) before heading back to the room for a nap. On our way, we stopped at a cafe for hot chocolate, which was a God-send, as someone was about to have another potty emergency if we didn’t find somewhere to stop! (I was having déjà vu to last year’s epic potty accident not that far from here…)

The next day, Maelle and I started with a visit to the Natural History Museum. This was our favorite museum from last year, and she’d been asking for a ‘green dino stuffy’ for the past few months, so I figured why not see them again and at least get a stuffed toy with sentimental value.

This time she wasn’t afraid of the animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex, which the shop’s cashier told me was called Bertie. Ha!

After lunch, saw Frozen the Musical! I honestly wouldn’t have known it even existed, but my mom told me about it and Andrew encouraged us to go. (A small part of me wondered if she was a bit too young, or if it was too spendy for a toddler.) She wasn’t and it wasn’t. She absolutely loved it, and I found tickets in the nose-bleed section for cheap. Despite how high up we were, the view was fantastic! My only regret is that she wasn’t in an Elsa dress like many of the other girls, which she noticed. Next time.

Please note the Elsa stuffed doll. (We don’t have any Frozen dolls at home, so I–again–figured it would make a pretty great souvenir.) HOWEVER. That was TWO stuffed animal purchases in ONE day. In my mind, we were DONE with soft toy purchases. Pay attention folks: the stuffy count just grows as we go along…

I learned another lesson from last year–bring almost nothing in terms of toys and books. You’ll buy these things along the way. This year, we brought Lovey (of course), Paddington (of course), two tiny books and some coloring. Now we were up to FOUR stuffies.

The next day, Andrew had off so we all went to Hampstead Heath, which is a big open green park just outside the city. It was a beautiful day, and we hit the playground there as soon as we arrived.

You can see London just beyond the park. It wasn’t busy, but I could imagine it being so on a beautiful weekend day. Remember, anyone living in the city doesn’t have a backyard like we do–at the very most their ‘back garden’ might be the size of our driveway–so city-dwellers have to travel to get to a green space like this.

Afterward, we took a bus to Camden Town for lunch at the market, which turned out terribly for me, as it was incredibly crowded. It’s not so much the crowds themselves that get to me, as much as it’s a general ‘sensory overload’ experience (hence why I abhor arcades and loud concerts), which can really get to me.

I’m sharing this here because it–unfortunately–happened more than once during our trip, and it honestly might be the first time in my life that I’m realizing/accepting/verbalizing that this is an issue for me. At almost 40 years old.

I also think my sensitivity to all the ‘inputs’ (crowded spaces, noises, lights, being poked by my child, managing a stroller in a crowd, incessant requests by my child, etc…) during the trip was higher related to our dear daughter’s behavior…she turned into a ‘threenager’ OVERNIGHT, which honestly just about did me in every day. It’s one thing to throw a tantrum at home, it’s quite another to do so on a busy London street. So, I was often already having a hard time without adding in any other stressors.

Our biggest challenge was finding lunch, as well as somewhere to SIT and EAT that lunch, which proved almost too much. (This was all very sad for me, as I’d been looking forward to visiting Camden very much.) After much gnashing of teeth (mostly mine toward Andrew), we recovered and exited the market and headed toward the canal.

Thankfully, the quiet walk along the water and the warmth of the sun did wonders for my spirit. My body stopped vibrating and I could almost ‘hear’ the silence after the terrible market experience. It was my favorite part of the day.

Believe it or not, I’d go back! It’s all (OK, mostly) about expectations: if I know what to expect, I can more easily cope. For example, on our next visit, Andrew and I will have a better plan for finding food and somewhere to eat so that I don’t get twitchy and panicky while we’re in the midst of the chaos.

After we walked the canals and explored a little bit of Camden, we found ourselves at the Camden Town Brewery. Maelle had fallen asleep in her stroller, there was an impending rain storm, and we were exhausted after that crazy experience at the market. Unfortunately, despite my smile, I was actually still having a really hard time mentally. Even though the brewery was almost empty, the high ceilings exacerbated the noise–some guys playing pool nearby, the train overhead. I was truly surprised at how much I was still ‘feeling’ all of it. But, a little rest (and alcohol!) helps, and by the time we caught our train back, I was feeling much better.

(It’s possible the entire event had been triggered by something that happened earlier that morning. I remember getting on our train to Hampstead Heath and having to close my eyes to avoid seeing the landscape whizzing by, which isn’t normal for me. Prior to boarding our train, I had been really interested in all the movie/musical/advertisement posters plastered along the walls of the tube, and I was actively trying to read many of them, even lagging behind Andrew and Maelle sometimes. Again, not normal for me. I suppose it’s possible that all that walking and reading, spinning and craning my neck around, upset something in my inner ear that caused me to be a bit dizzy on the train. I was mostly fine once we got off the train, but maybe whatever made me dizzy also caused me to have a more severe reaction to all the ‘overload’ at the market?)

We headed back to Trafalgar Square to eat dinner at a crypt! I’d tried to take Maelle the evening before, but it was closed for an event. St Martins in the Fields has a little ‘crypt cafe’ below, which is reasonably priced and offers great food. It was such a fun experience!

Up next: Portobello Road Market and more!

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