Family Trip #6

First trip outside of Denmark!!

*Warning. This is a LONG post.*

Where did we go?

LONDON!

The girls had a couple days off from school so we decided to hop on a plane to London. Flying within Europe is reasonably priced and after looking at prices for budget hotels, we did it!

Before going though, I was nervous. London was going to be, by far, the largest city I have ever been in. I tried to mentally prepare and I’ll tell you, a LOT of lessons were learned on this trip.

Once I booked the flights and hotels, I spent weeks months researching what we should do with kids in London. I talked to some British citizens and read many different travel blogs. From what I gathered, we could probably have spent a month in London and not see everything. Having two kids did narrow the list down some but still…we had to pick and choose based on the age of our kids and what we thought we would all like.

The itinerary was planned (by me) and we took off from the airport at 10:30 PM.

Both girls were extremely tired before we even took off. They did get some extra energy after a stranger offered to buy them some TY beanies at an airport shop. He said they reminded them of his little girl who was now in her 20s.

By the time we landed, Avery was half awake; Claire’s eyes were glazed over; and we had to wait in customs for 30 minutes. Avery fell asleep in her stroller before we even got through passport control but Claire, running on E, was jumping up and down trying to make the passport control agent laugh (he did smile a bit).

We located our shuttle and found our way to the first budget hotel. We were so exhausted we didn’t feel like going to customer services and complaining that there were no blankets on the beds; we just slept (although not entirely well with the lack of blankets).

DAY 1 in London:

After breakfast, we caught a shuttle back to the airport to hop on the train to downtown London. The train was fast and there were tables for us all to sit at. We played hangman and drew pictures during our train ride.

Finally, we arrived in London at Liverpool Street Station.

We paid for early check in so the first plan of attack was to find our hotel and drop off our bags. Well…there was construction right outside the station and Google maps was leading us down a closed sidewalk. So we realized quickly how crazy London streets are. They are not in near perfect squares like you’d find in a lot of US cities. A lot more circles and curves in these streets. But Google maps caught on quickly and we made it to our hotel.

We immediately checked in and even though we were a bit early for the early check in, we were able to get into our room within 15 minutes. We dropped off our bags and started walking to our first stop, Sky Garden.

Sky Garden is located in a skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch Street. It is also known as the walkie talkie building. It got into a bit a trouble when it melted some car parts and set carpets on fire. This was all due to the windows reflecting sunlight onto the ground, creating intense heat. They obviously fixed the problem and all is good now.

The Sky Garden though is located at the top. It houses a garden and wonderful views of London. Oh and it’s FREE! You just have to be sure to reserve tickets ahead of time. You will also need to go through security at the rear of the building to get to the top. With children in hand, we were escorted pretty quickly through to an elevator.

It was rainy and a bit windy the day we went so the balcony was closed. I honestly don’t think I would have had the courage to step out there anyway. The views were amazing! We could see over the Thames River and beyond. It is also a 365° view so we could see all of downtown London. There were also labels on the windows to identify skyscrapers across London. Our favorite was the Gherkin; 1) because of the name and 2) it looks like an Easter egg.

Oh and it’s called the Sky Garden because it holds London’s highest public garden. Pretty cool!

Next, we found food. Yes, there was a restaurant and cafe in the Sky Garden but it was very busy and expensive. We made a quick pit stop at a department store and used the grossest bathroom I’ve ever used in my life and headed to our next destination; Harry Potter Walking Tour.

Side note: I’m a big Harry Potter fan. I don’t have all the books memorized or know all the actors names and details but I thoroughly enjoy the books and movies. I’ve read them many, many times and own some HP merchandise. So since we were in London, I decided to book us a tour. I skipped on the Harry Potter Studio tour because it was too expensive for all of us and I would have been the only one interested. I also didn’t want to spoil anything for Claire who has just finished the first book.

After walking for about 10 minutes, we decided to take our first adventure on the Tube (subway). I bought a Visitor Oyster card before we arrived in London. If you ever go to London, get this! It made the trip so easy and kept stress over the public transit down to a minimum. We just had to concentrate hard on which line to get on. Really, it wasn’t that difficult. We just liked to double check over and over to make sure we were going the right way. I’m happy to say we didn’t get lost using the Tube. Google maps helped us get on the right line and the maps were posted all through the Tube if I lost a signal on my phone.

The girls were a little afraid of it at first. It was pretty loud rolling through the tunnels. Once on it, they loved it. They liked repeating the stations the conductor announced. I appreciated how many riders would get up when we got on and offer seats to the girls and I. No matter how busy it was, we always had a seat for the girls and I to sit on.

We made it to our location, Palace Theatre. Can you guess why the tour started there?

We were a little early for the tour so we decided to find a quick snack/dessert close by. I found a cafe with gluten free options on my app (Find Me Gluten Free) but when we got there, they were out of gluten free options. The girls were happy though.

After cupcakes, it was Harry Potter time. Our tour guide was Nic and he was excellent. We started with a sorting. Claire and the husband were put into the Ravenclaw house, Avery was put into Slytherin and I was in Gryffindor.

The tour included facts about JK Rowling, locations that inspired the film and actual film locations. We saw the locations that inspired Diagon and Knockturn Alley.

Those window panes are curved and very expensive to fix. There is a hefty fine if you break one. We kept the girls a safe distance from them.

Here’s a few more locations we saw that were in the movie. Drop a comment if you can guess why the location is significant.

Claire also got to act out a scene that was in the movie. She was happy to be Harry Potter.

Another thing I loved about the tour was all the London sites we were able to see. Our tour guide shared with us a lot of the history of London, including the Millennium Bridge (pictured above) and why it’s also known as the Wobbly Bridge. He also pointed out Anchor Pub (may be one of the oldest pubs in London), Borough Market, the enormous St. Paul’s Cathedral and so many other landmarks.

We ended the tour at King’s Cross Station at Platform 9 3/4. There was a very long line to get a picture and the girls were tired and hungry/hangry. So this is the only picture I was able to grab:

After that, we walked just a couple blocks to a place called Honest Burgers. Excellent. It had great service, gluten free options and a kids menu. I highly recommend. Our hostess also seated us at a window seat so were able to see down the hill to King’s Cross as the sun was setting. It was an excellent time to unwind until Claire spilled her lemonade all over.

We caught a bus back to our hotel (using the Oyster Card) and fell fast asleep.

DAY 2 in London:

First we had breakfast in the hotel, then we jumped on a double-decker bus and Tube to get to our next adventure; Thames River Cruise.

This came highly recommended by our Danish instructor and the weather forecast was decent (no downpours expected). We booked a round trip cruise on the Thames from Westminster Millennium Pier to Greenwich. Oh and we also got a discount with our Oyster Card. Score!

The first leg of the river cruise was good. The girls did get a little antsy and Avery was bored near the end of the 45 minute cruise. The captain was also our tour guide and gave us some history about the locations we saw along the riverbank (with a good amount of humor).

Waterloo Bridge or Ladies Bridge. Built mainly by women during WWII. The stone is Portland stone, a stone that cleans itself when rained on.

We came to a quick stop at Tower Bridge which is probably the most famous bridge in London. Us tourists usually mistake it for the London Bridge. But the Tower Bridge is the one that raises up and down in the middle and is featured in many London based movies.

After the quick stop at St. Katharine Pier, we continued towards Greenwich with the captain pointing out many more landmarks. There was even an American flag waving below a pub called the Mayflower, which has a replica of the boat on it’s weather vane.

We arrived at Greenwich Pier without any children jumping overboard and headed toward the Maritime Museum.

Another wonderful thing about London is that most of the museums are free. While all the exhibits may not be, you can see a lot in the free areas. And these museums are huge! Most people can probably spend hours or even days looking at all the history. People with children on the other hand can probably only spend a few hours.

On the open area near the cafe in the Maritime Museum is a large map of the world. There were even a few toy boats to sit on for the children but they were all taken by the time we got there. I enjoyed a coffee while the girls ran around and released some energy after being told to sit still on the Thames River Cruise.

After a couple minutes there, we wondered around the museum. We looked at some small model ships and the girls made some drawings, we moved onto a few more exhibits then found one of the kids areas. It involved a game where you try to shoot a pirate ship, pretend galley (ship kitchen), learning Morse Code with lights and a telegraph machine, play area and drawing area. Avery had a blast here and did not want to leave.

After a couple hours here and bribing Avery to leave the museum, we started our way towards the Royal Observatory. The view and gardens around the Maritime Museum are wonderful. Claire ran around the vast lawn space to release some more energy.

The walk, or should I say the climb, to the Royal Observatory is steep. There is a less strenuous route but it’s longer. We felt strong so we hiked our way up the steep hill (Avery enjoyed the stroller). I was a bit out of breath when we reached the top but man, the view was awesome.

We also took a picture on the Prime Meridian. The Prime Meridian is what separates the globe’s western to eastern hemispheres. This particular location is also important because it’s where Greenwich Mean Time is located. It’s where time zones start and is not affected by Daylight Saving Time. It is also extremely important with weather forecasting as all our maps are released in GMT or UTC.

You can pay to go into the observatory and take a picture along the Prime Meridian with different labels of countries/cities and their longitudinal degree. But since there are a lot of expensive clocks inside and we have small children, we decided to pass on that and take this free picture outside.

After the girls ran up and down the hill a handful of times, we checked out the Peter Harrison Planetarium, which had free entry. It was small but had a lot of hands on activities for the girls. Even the chance of touching a meteorite that is estimated to be 4.5 billion years old. Pretty mind blowing huh?

After that, we walked around Greenwich a bit trying to find a gluten free restaurant to eat at. The first one we stopped had a long wait and it appeared much of the Greenwich cafes and restaurants were full. So we decided to try out some street food we saw just off the pier. It was a hit! The girls were able to get pizza, the husband had a burrito and I tried some South American cuisine.

The entire menu was gluten free so I knew I would be safe here. And it was delicious! I mean, fried cheese! How can you go wrong with that?

After lunch, we grabbed the girls some ice cream for the river cruise back to Thames River Pier.

We met some Americans on this journey back and the girls had a fun time entertaining them with knock, knock jokes and bathroom humor. I also experienced how hard it is to help a three year old in the bathroom on a rocking ship. Not an easy feat.

Back at Thames River Pier, we decided to do some walking to see some famous sites of London.

We then started walking toward Buckingham Palace. Evening was drawing near so we didn’t want to be walking around too late into the night. We walked through another park, St. James’s Park. It was a beautiful stroll.

We made it to Buckingham Palace and did a quick walk through the mall to take it in and grab some photos of the palace and Victoria Memorial.

The Union Flag was flying noting that the queen was not in Buckingham Palace at the time of our visit.

Next stop was Hamleys. It’s not a historical landmark of London but we were told by many Brits to check it out. What is it? A toy store. Five levels of toys. Five. Floors.

So after a nose to nose ride in the Tube (with people somehow making room for us to sit), we arrived at Hamleys.

The girls each picked out a toy (and the parents may have to) and we headed back to the hotel (on a bus this time) to conclude Day 2.

DAY 3:

Day three started off with breakfast again at the hotel, checking out of our room, putting our bags in their storage area and hopping on the bus to the Tube station.

Unfortunately, some sort of filming was going on along the bus route and traffic was hardly moving. We decided to jump off the bus and walk the rest of the way to the Tube. Well mother nature unleashed on us and we were soaked by the time we got to the Underground. Not a great way to start the day…

Happily, the Tube was pretty empty and we made our way to the Natural History Museum. I really like how the Underground had a walkway under the streets of London so we didn’t have to get any more wet. By the time we were back above ground, the rain had stopped and we were 20 minutes early to the opening of the museum. We walked around and enjoyed some more London architecture. And let me tell you, the Natural History Museum is gorgeous.

When we made it inside, we were greeted by a large blue whale skeleton named Hope.

The architecture just inside the museum is breathtaking. Claire chose where she wanted to go first so we made our way to the gems and minerals. Diamonds are a girls best friend, right?

There was some really neat stuff in there but our three year old was not interested. She kept climbing on the glass cabinets and was losing interest fast. Next, we tried the bugs and insects area of the museum. There were a lot of creepy hands on activities but again Avery was not having it. I’m pretty sure it had a lot to do with the large crowd, waiting in line to see a display, lack of sleep and her age.

We decided to get them fed and my husband let me explore the weather/nature side of the museum while he ate with the girls.

I found a cool lightning strike in sand (I think it was at this museum) and a slice of a sequoia tree.

Even though we only explored about 1/16 of this massive museum (seriously, you could spend a week there), we decided to go to the one next door. The Science Museum. We hoped it would have more hands-on stuff for Avery and her current temperament.

This building had some awesome architecture and displays as well. But alas, Avery was a bit too young for this museum as well (at least the areas we checked out). We only spent a couple hours here and realized we needed to call it quits.

We left the museum and made our way to Hyde Park to see the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.

My mom has always been a fan of English literature and Princess Diana so this was one stop I had to absolutely see before leaving London.

The weather was dreary but we learned something. The girls prefer to be outside running around then inside a museum (AKA box) and being told what to do. They were laughing, running around the fountain. They looked for nuts and leaves. They chased the birds and geese. They were so happy to be outside. Our upcoming trips may need to be altered after this revelation.

We spent a few minutes at the fountain then walked through the park towards the Tube. We saw a few other landmarks along the way like the Peter Pan statue, the Albert Memorial, the Serpentine (used in 2012 Olympics for swimming) and the Italian Gardens.

And with that we got on the Tube, picked up our bags at the hotels and hopped on a train to the airport.

All in all, it was a decent trip. I’m pretty sure you could spend an entire month in London and still not experience all you should. It has so much history, so many museums and wonderful parks. There are so many cultures in this one city. Everyone was kind on the Tube and around the city. Some even indulged my (now) seven year old in silly conversation.

But traveling with sleep deprived children (and being tired myself) made the trip a bit more stressful. Like I said earlier, we learned that the girls may need more running around space for our next trip and less structure. I may have tried to put too much into a three day schedule. Well…you live, you learn they say.

I’m glad we were able to experience it and am looking forward to our next European country.

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