My good friend Valerie did me the favor of having a baby shortly after I did, but then went and moved out of the Bay Area all the way to London… as if I wasn’t having a hard enough time crossing the bridge into San Francisco to see her and Baby Norah.
She’s sent us her ideal week’s worth of local activities with the caveat that she and Norah are really only capable of one activity a day – and sometimes just going to the grocery store counts as that day’s activity. (As long as I pass the threshold of my front door, it counts as an outing in my book!)
Alrighty, here goes Val’s week in London’s Hampstead district…
Attend the “Gym Walkers” class at Gymboree and hit the Sainsbury’s.
After a weekend hanging out and playing with Daddy, Norah and I find that it’s important to ease into the week slowly. So, our primary Monday goal is to attend the 3PM “Gym Walkers” class at Gymboree.
(I never imagined I’d be a Gymboree class-type – it seems so yuppie-housewifey?!?! However, it turns out: (a) I am a yuppie housewife at the moment, (b) it’s a good way to meet other moms when you move to a new city, and (c) if you are like me and have packed up and moved to a new city where you have no friends, family or job and thus your baby is with you – and you alone – basically 24/7, it’s probably a good way to expose her to other kids and people.)
My local Gymboree outlet is located in the O2 Centre, so I can do my grocery shopping at the Sainsbury’s there before or after class (which also means I can count it as a two-activity-day!) There are also a number of restaurants and cafes there, so it’s easy to go on a “mommy date” for lunch or a coffee after class (seems moms are the primary clientele there…).
I just stumbled into Gymboree because it is located right near our flat and I’d heard of it; however, a few people have told me that Tumble Tots is a great – and perhaps better – local kid activity center, er, I mean centre. I have been too lazy to check it out, however, so can’t weigh in with an opinion.
Enjoy the Hampstead Heath playground and Kenwood House.
On Tuesdays we might head out to Hampstead Heath. There is a FANTASTIC playground in the southwest corner (near the Hampstead train station and the running track). It is truly the best playground I’ve ever seen – tons of equipment of every kind imaginable, huge sandbox, plus a big wading pool that seems to be getting tons of use during our current heat wave her in London. Norah – at 10 months – is still getting the most use out of the baby swings as she hasn’t yet graduated to much of the other equipment. She did do her first spin in the sandbox the other day, however, which she seemed to like quite a bit (both the feel and taste – judging from the amount of sand in her diaper the next day!)
Rumor has it there are “10:00” and “3:00 Clubs” where groups of moms meet up at the playground every day (or perhaps certain days – I’m not really sure). Anyway, sounds like a semi-formal thing where someone brings refreshments and a pretty regular group gets together, but that anyone can drop by. I can’t speak from experience, however, because Norah and I have never been (lord knows we can’t get anywhere by 10AM – and we just haven’t gotten it together to go to the 3PM one…)
After some frolicking at the playground, we might decide to walk up the Kenwood House, which is this lovely old estate sitting in the middle of the Heath. They have a restaurant up there and tons of lawn so it makes a nice spot to sit for lunch while the wee ones crawl around on the grass. They also have a concert series up there, which draws lots of families on summer evenings.
Golders Hill Park (off the northwest corner of the Heath) is also a really nice spot – great playground, café, and miniature zoo (Mark, Norah and I had a lovely picnic there yesterday, in fact!)
There are several organized moms groups that meet for walks/workouts in the Heath, including the Buggy Brigade and Pushy Mothers. I’ve not tried either, however, so can’t speak from personal experience, but I have talked to moms who have and said they were pretty fun.
Visit the Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre.
On Wednesday we might go to the Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre, the great new community center that has opened near our place. If you’re looking for some kid-free time, they have a crèche (aka drop-in daycare center) where you can leave your kid while you work out and/or eat lunch at the lovely café. You can pre-book a time at the crèche up to a week in advance and it comes free with certain levels of membership or you can pay a pretty nominal drop-in fee.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that I’ve left Norah there three times, all of which she screamed hysterically pretty much the whole time I was gone and they had to page me to come rescue her. I don’t think it was a reflection on the crèche, however, but rather the fact that Norah has never been left with a babysitter/in daycare and is a bit of a momma’s girl at the best of times! I would say that you probably wouldn’t want to leave your child there unless he or she was a more experienced daycare attendee, however, given that it is just a drop-in.
Anyway, they have two pools there – one of which is a warmer “training pool” – and you can take your baby swimming there during open swim time. I’ve heard there will be baby swim classes in the fall, but none so far…
There is also a nice little playground out front, as well as another great wading pool (complete with shooting water jets) that anyone can use (Norah LOVES crawling around and splashing in it). The community center is also connected to the Swiss Cottage Library. Rumor has it they have a regular story time where you can bring you baby to listen to someone (presumably better at it than you!?!) read them stories.
Catch a movie at Everyman Cinema.
Thursday is bring your baby to the movie day at Everyman Cinema, located in the middle of Hampstead Village. At noon is “Scream” for babies 1 year old and younger, and 3:00PM is for tots. It’s a small, quite posh little theater – you can reserve a couch or box seat, though the regular seats are just fine. They serve food and have a nice little café where tons of moms hang out pre and post movie to chat.
Take your baby to the pub!
Hampstead definitely seems to be a neighborhood of ‘ladies’ – or more accurately – ‘mommies who lunch’. Basically every restaurant around here is very child friendly, and you are definitely likely to be surrounded by moms and babies wherever you go. I, personally, am fond of lunching and hanging out with the babe at the pub – especially those that are part of the ‘gastropub’ trend here (i.e., pubs that have given themselves a menu makeover and now serve more than just typical greasy pub fare like fish and chips and burgers). Family pub culture is such that most of these establishments even have highchairs (though there are still some that do now allow anyone under 18, so you do have to ask).
Anyway, two of my favorites are The Holly Bush and Free Masons Arms.
SATURDAY AND SUNDAY
Beyond the confines of Hampstead, there are, of course, tons of other great activities to do with babies in London (it definitely feels way more baby-filled and baby-friendly than San Francisco — where babies seemed a bit of an endangered species!) It is at least relatively manageable to get around (while many of the tube stations do not have lifts, you will find that people are extremely helpful offering to help you carry your buggy or pushchair – aka stroller – up the stairs. And, as you know, it’s also completely acceptable here to just roll your baby and buggy into a black cab and make your way to your next fun activity!
Mark and I have also definitely embraced the Sunday Roast tradition here in the UK, i.e., taking the family out to the pub for a good hearty meal and a few pints on Sunday afternoons – and it isn’t just us alchies doing it – there are definitely lots of other families!