Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Family Fun in London!

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[caption id="attachment_1720" align="aligncenter" width="454" caption="In front of Parliament and Big Ben along the Thames River"][/caption]

An hour and a half car ride. Then two hours scurrying through security and waiting in a never ending line for the plane to board and take off. An hour and a half on a teeny tiny, uncomfortable airplane (cheap, budget airline means sacrificing comfort). Another 45min at Stansted airport trying to get through passport checks..  A 45min (thankfully air conditioned) train ride on the Stansted Express to Liverpool Station where we were supposed to then take the tube to our final destination.

Another twenty minutes wandering the Tube station to figure out a new route because the route we needed was down. Thankfully, a lovely employee at the tube station directed us another route.

[caption id="attachment_1714" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Mr. Wright at the Liverpool Tube Station"][/caption]

An hour and a half later than expected, we arrive at our apartment. Sweaty. Filthy. And exhausted.

Traveling is hard. Especially in a different country and in a big city where everything is unknown and foreign. And even more especially with two kids under five in tow.

It’s intense to be in a place swarming with people, signs pointing to every which direction and not being entirely sure where to go or how; all the while with two little ones whining and crying because they too are tired and hungry. The difficulty of this trip is actually one of the reasons we love London more than any other city we have been to thus far.

It was a breath of much needed fresh air to have people stop and ask if we needed help getting somewhere.  And to have people offer to help us when they saw us wobblying up the stairs carrying a stroller loaded with kids and luggage. It is so comforting to have your fears eased and to allow a little bit of trust in strangers.

I’m not sure why, but most people I’ve talked to have said people in London aren’t sweet. Or helpful. Maybe we are some rare case, but our conclusion is London is the most kid friendly city we have traveled to in Europe. Not just in the sense that people are friendly to our kids, which they were a lot. But in the sense that for kids there was something to do everywhere we went.

Here were our Top Five favorite things we did as a family in London:

The Tower of London
The crown jewels. Beauchamp Tower. Bloody Tower. The White Tower. Grassy castle grounds. With so many things to see and explore, we spent a little over 2 hours here. For once, I was happy to see my freakish controlling ways have a positive side because I took the advice of Rick Steves and rushed my family to get the Tower of London first thing in the morning. (As in, everyone be up at 6:30 am, so we can leave at 7:30 am, have breakfast and tube it to Tower Hill). It was so peaceful and intimate to experience the castle grounds before the droves of tourist groups arrived. You know that feeling when you are up before the entire family? When it’s quiet and fresh and peaceful? That’s how it felt being early at the Tower of London. Oh, and it made for better pictures.

Here’s a picture of my sweet little family with the Tower Bridge in the background.

A lovely older man saw me taking this picture and asked if we would like a family picture together.

We climbed Beauchamp Tower and imagined what life was like as a prisoner.

[caption id="attachment_1684" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Prisoners in Beauchamp Tower"][/caption]

We toured through the White Tower and saw the armor of several different Kings.

[caption id="attachment_1685" align="aligncenter" width="461" caption="Apparently Henry VIII had some balls *ahem* or wanted to appear to have them anyway."][/caption]

The kids had a lot of fun on the third floor of White Tower touching the different types of weapons used by knights.

Then it was time for lunch. We were pleasantly surprised at the restaurant (across from the White Tower). The food was semi-gourmet (and had several healthy options).

Kids could make their own lunch box, which offered no sugar added juices, raisins, fruit and sandwiches.

Tower of London is absolutely a must see sight with or without kids!

Natural History and Science Museums
Many great things about these museums which are right next to each other. For one, they are both FREE. They are educational and they both offer hands on activities for kids.


Isn't the architecture of this museum just gorgeous??

This giant sequoia was 1132 years old when it died. It started to seed in the year 530. Amazing!

The creepy crawly section of the museum was my LEAST favorite part.

The earth science section however was pretty cool.

[caption id="attachment_1695" align="aligncenter" width="430" caption="Escalator ascending into "Mars" to the earth science area of the museum."][/caption]

There were so many other things to do at this museum and it was a fun way to start our morning.

Because there's no such thing as too much fun in a day we went to the Science Museum, which was right next door. THIS place was cool.

[caption id="attachment_1693" align="aligncenter" width="461" caption="Area about space exploration"][/caption]

The area dedicated to space exploration is really neat. Not just for kids, but for adults too!

We also got to learn about the steam engine.

But the kids FAVORITE place in the museum and possibly the entire world was The Basement. An area purely for kids to play with no rules.

They could run around like crazy people. Touch and yank on different things. Jump and climb. Get their hands wet and dirty. It was really wonderful to see their faces light up and see how happy this place made them.

For a moment I wondered how much more fun this place could be for parents. Like if there was a bar stocked with mini wine bottles. Conflict of interest? Yeah, probably.

My little guy ran through this over and over and over again. Every time he ran through he cracked up. It was so funny.

We left. Pooped and entirely exhausted.

SeaLife Aquarium

We decided on the last day whether this aquarium would be worth the cost (about 58 pounds, or $87USD). I’m really glad we went. The kids had a lot of fun and I think my husband had even more fun than them.

When you first get into the aquarium you get to WALK across this glass aquarium and look down on the sharks. How cool is that?

Both kids loved petting the starfish.

The penguin area was so cool. Literally. It was cold! They did a great job replicating Antartica.

Seeing sharks this close was really neat. I definitely love seeing them behind glass. That's as close as I ever care to get to them. I could see their sharp teeth just fine :)

Parks (Hyde and St. James)

[caption id="attachment_1707" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="St. James's Park"][/caption]

It was the epitome of summer fun in the sun at the parks in London. People riding bikes, playing Frisbee, having picnics, boating on the river. The vibe was so chill, yet energetic too. Simply put, it just felt happy

[caption id="attachment_1708" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="My sweeties at St. James's Park"][/caption]

We weren't the only ones who enjoyed the park. Everyone and their brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles were at Hyde Park.


This may seem mundane, but for us eating was a major highlight in London. You see, where we are from, in the countryside in Bavaria, the only option for fast food for lunch(or dinner) is McDonalds. There is no such thing as Panera Bread. Or Chipotle. Many places we have traveled to in Europe have funky hours (by American standards anyway). Lunch is served from 11 until 2 or 3pm and then places are closed until dinner time. It was so wonderful to have places to eat at that were not only open from 6am until 9pm, but that also served healthy, organic fast food. I was in culinary heaven.

[caption id="attachment_1710" align="aligncenter" width="614" caption="Yummy Italian Salad"][/caption]

Our most favorite place was this little eatery called Ravello. Oh, Ravello how I miss you so. I swear, I’m not exaggerating, this place had THE best latte I’ve ever had. Ever. For real.

[caption id="attachment_1711" align="aligncenter" width="430" caption="Picture of the best latte ever"][/caption]

We went there every single day for breakfast and most days for either lunch or dinner. They had eggs and bacon and toast and real fruit smoothies for breakfast. And for lunch, salads and curry dishes and sandwiches and pasta dishes. Meals cost us no more than 20 pounds. For us, this kind of eating was a vacation and was perfect. Not everyone has a maniac two year old with them. We do. So when said maniac two year old decides to have a maniac moment, it was a peace of heaven to know we can just up and leave at a moment’s notice, coffee in hand.

Of course we did the typical tourist stuff too, but these places were where we had the most fun as a family. I learned a lesson. Never have an assumption without knowing. I didn't think London was somewhere I ever wanted to go. Not in my top ten anyway. It ended up being my favorite vacation so far. I'm still on a high from how much fun it was. I can't wait to go back to London to experience the version without kids :)



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