We first realized how different this trip to London would be as we handed our passports to the immigration official at Heathrow. Like almost everyone in line, my husband and I were eager to be done with the tedious process. But our six-year-old son, Josh, on his first trip abroad, edged around to the other side of the desk to watch, awestruck. When the stamping was complete, he rushed to grab his passport back.
''Look! My first stamp!''
He showed it to everyone in line. He stared at it as we drove to the hotel, not even noticing that we were driving on the left side of the road. He presented it to the doorman. He flashed it at the bellman. He asked to sleep with it.
We persuaded Josh to leave his prized possession at the hotel, and set out to explore.
''Burger King!'' he exclaimed, as we negotiated the crosswalks of Piccadilly Circus. It was there we learned that the kid's meal was the same in London as in New York, including the toy that came inside. But chicken tenders were called ''pick-em-ups.'' And the fries were called chips.
''Isn't it interesting to travel?'' Josh asked. After lunch, we strolled to Buckingham Palace as we told Josh about the guards posted there.
''What if his nose itches?'' Josh asked. ''What if he has to go to the bathroom? Can he ...''
He stopped short.
''Look!'' he cried. ''A pillar-box!''
Josh was pointing at a red, barrel-shaped metal container with two slots in the front.
''That's a mailbox,'' I explained.
''No,'' he insisted. ''It's a pillar-box. Danger Mouse lives near one. Under a loose brick. On Baker Street. Can we go to Baker Street?''
I explained to my husband that Danger Mouse, a crime-fighting British rodent with an eye patch and a white jumpsuit, was the main character in one of Josh's favorite cartoons.
''Do we have to go?'' he whispered, out of earshot of Josh.
''He'll probably lose interest,'' I predicted. ''Let's tell him we'll try to fit it in later, if we can.''
''There's Big Ben!'' he cried as we neared Parliament, our next stop. ''Danger Mouse hangs out near Big Ben!''
Inside Westminster Abbey, he asked, ''Are any of Danger Mouse's friends buried here?''
On the upper level of a double-decker bus, he asked, ''Do you think mice are allowed to ride these things? Do they get a discount, since they're so small?''
I got a frustrated ''Ph! Mom, I know that,'' when I tried to point out the differences between our speech patterns and those of everyone around us. ''Danger Mouse has an English accent.''
Tiring of mouse-talk, we decided to call it a day and return to the hotel. It was there we discovered the one activity that could make Josh forget Danger Mouse: high tea.
''They give you scones, little sandwiches, and dessert?'' he asked, incredulous. ''And a whole pot of hot chocolate just for me? Can we move here?''
But the next day, he was back on track.
''I hope Danger Mouse knows to stay away from here,'' he said of the Tower of London, after hearing about the beheadings that had taken place there.
''Do you think Danger Mouse shops here?'' we heard at Harrod's.
It was clear that we would have no peace until we visited Baker Street. As we exited the underground at our designated stop, we noticed a display of familiar silhouettes.
''Now I know why Baker Street sounded so familiar,'' I said. ''Sherlock Holmes lived here!''
''We're not here for Sherlock Holmes, Mom,'' Josh reminded me sternly.
We walked up and down the cement sidewalk that lined the busy, asphalt-covered street.
''Where are the cobblestones?'' I asked. ''Didn't you say there were supposed to be cobblestones?''
''Shouldn't there be pillar-boxes?'' my husband asked.
''Maybe we're going in the wrong direction,'' I suggested. ''Let's turn around.''
Still no luck. Dusk was approaching.
''We have time to look one last time before it gets dark,'' my husband said.
We craned our necks to peer down every side street and through every alleyway as we walked.
''I'm so sorry, honey,'' I told Josh, as the sun started to set. ''I don't think we're going to find Danger Mouse.''
We braced ourselves for tears.
Josh looked at me strangely. ''Of course we're not, Mom,'' he decided. ''He's only a cartoon character. Let's go back to the hotel. I want to make myself another passport. It will have four stamps. And besides ... it's tea time!''