spring break…or, London with youngsters, Part IV (final installment, I promise!)

[A photo-heavy, pseudo-travel-guide in several parts, written mostly for family and fellow Anglophiles…in case you were wondering.]

We spent our last day in London not actually in London. Instead, we boated down the River Thames to Greenwich, which was an excellent decision–other than having to endure boat people.

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(What’s a “boat person,” you ask? Boat people are the folks who sat basically on top of me even though we were the only 2 families on the top deck of the boat on the way down to Greenwich. This large woman felt the need to sit on the back of the bench we were on, leaning on me and pushing me forward with her big puffy coat. At first I thought it was a joke. Nope. Classic Euro-disregard for personal space. I promise you her family of 4 and my family of 5 were the only people on the deck. That’s 9 humans crammed into about a 4-foot square space.)

(Yes, I finally stood up and moved.)

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Nonetheless, it was neat seeing places we’d walked past earlier in the week from a different vantage point.

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The Globe Theatre

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The Mayflower–commemorates the actual launching place of the actual Mayflower

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Greenwich was wonderful. It’s on the River, obviously, and many of its attractions were maritime themed.

First stop:  The Cutty Sark (any old students reading? “Weel done, Cutty Sark!”). This ship has been restored and was a no-brainer to visit, especially since we were on a mission to see every boat we possibly could.

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View from a porthole in the Cutty Sark’s belly. Ugh.

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View from a porthole–looking back towards London.

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The Cutty Sark had all kinds of cool interactive things. Jack and Tucker loved it.

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We had lunch at a nifty little Italian place on the water and then walked over to the National Maritime Museum.

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You have no idea how much this thing weighed…

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…but all 3 boys (plus Russ) had to put it on.

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The National Maritime Museum had tons of hands-on exhibits, too.

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This might be the best photo of the trip. Jack, Theo and I were reading about polar exhibitions when I looked up and realized Tucker wasn’t with us. He was across the museum by himself doing this:

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…fully dressed in costume (a ladies’ costume, at that) and pretending to joust (inspired by the knight’s helmet he wore earlier). Hilarious.

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We passed through the Maritime Museum and headed up to the Royal Observatory.

Wow. Just wow. The park leading up to the observatory was unbelievable.

You know that point in your trip where you get nostalgic even though you are still on vacation? That hit us here. The weather was incredible; the scenery was spectacular; it was just perfect.

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The nerd in me was so excited about this:

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I’ve now stood on the prime meridian AND the equator.

Yep.

Total coolness.

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East meets West.

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I told you the park was magnificent.

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Tucker gets in a random headstand.

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Our boat ride back to London again gave us some awesome views.

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We went by this big church, but just missed being able to go in. (Sigh. We’ll move you to the top of the list next time, Westminster Abbey.)

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For our last dinner in London we invited Uncle Beardy to join us. The boys were thrilled to see him again; we took him to…wait for it…Balthazar. Thursday night’s meal was just as great as Wednesday’s lunch.

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Tucker and Jack are completely addicted to Dr. Who, and they loved getting in these (completely useless) phone booths and pretending to be teleported somewhere. Here, Theo uses Tucker’s iTouch to record the moment.

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a very tired Theo in a black cab

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Tuck’s version of levitating Yoda

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The next morning, we left the Park Lane Hotel and headed to the airport, courtesy of the most verbose cab driver on the planet. He told these long, rambling stories that included questions like, “have you ever heard of the band Fleetwood Mac?” and “guess how much [insert British celebrity here] makes?” We all had the giggles by the time he deposited us back at Heathrow.

The best way to spend 9 hours on a plane? Right here.

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And I also figured out one small yet critical element to maintaining my sanity while flying: the window seat. Normally Jack claims it and then proceeds to close the shade before we even take off, a move that obviously exacerbates claustrophobia for those of us not excited about flying. I convinced him that he was wasting a perfectly good seat by doing that and so I needed to sit there instead.

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It worked.

(Though I must admit I was tickled pink when we were finally back over land. Photo below is the eastern-most edge of Greenland.)

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So there you have it, faithful readers:  London with Kids. Not only is it doable, it’s highly recommended. We had the absolute best time ever; the boys talk about London on a daily basis. When asked what city he’d like to visit next, Jack’s instant reply is, “London, again.”

London, again, indeed. (Thanks for enduring the photo frenzy…)

Spring Break…or, London with Youngsters, Part III

[A photo-heavy, pseudo-travel-guide in several parts, written mostly for family and fellow Anglophiles…in case you were wondering.]

Anyone other than family members still reading this? (Yeah, that’s what I thought. Just checking.)

Tuesday morning found us heading out to Leavesden to visit Harry Potter World. The brilliant folk at Warner Brothers decided to turn their multi-million dollar sets from the Harry Potter movies into a tourist site.

My boys love Harry Potter, and we’d received several glowing reviews of Harry Potter World from friends who’d visited before. You can add us to the list of impressed people.

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After a very brief movie showcasing the actors talking about how this place was their home for so many years, the screen rolls up and the doors open and BAM! You’re inside the Great Hall of Hogwarts. To say it’s impressive is an understatement.

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Several different sets are here in their entirety: the Gryffindor Common Room, the Weasley’s house, Dumbledore’s office, Diagon Alley, the Potions Lab…along with the great purple Knight Bus and the Weasley’s car. It was fantastic. (Quick flashback story: I think movie sets are pretty doggone awesome. I once waited in line for several hours at the Smithsonian just to see the sets from M*A*S*H. I was going into 8th grade. Clearly, that was just a foreshadowing of my coolness, huh?)

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Butter beer. Just gross.

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Diagon Alley was spectacular.

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Perhaps the coolest part of the entire tour was the green room experience. We rode in the Weasley’s car, and the boys were able to try flying on a broomstick.

Here’s Tucker flying a broomstick, followed by Jack’s flying skills. Skip to the 2 minute mark to get to the real action. (I’m having a hard time getting Theo’s video to upload–but trust me; he loved every second of it, too.)

See? Amazing, right?

The cherry on the top of the Harry Potter experience was the double decker bus ride back to the train station where Theo landed the bombdiggity of all bus seats: shotgun on the upper level.

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We arrived back in London and headed over to Trafalgar Square for the obligatory lion shots.

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The lions sit across from The National Gallery, and we had a few minutes until it closed, so we headed in. We never anticipated how much Tucker would love it. We had to drag him out, even as the guards were telling us they were closing and we needed to leave immediately. We were even able to sneak a peek into the room where Van Gogh’s Sunflowers were. The experience made for a happy mom and happy boys (though the cast of weirdos outside the National Gallery was equally as impressive to the boys: a levitating Yoda? Hard to beat.).

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After yet another completely ordinary meal, we were sidetracked into just about the craziest place I’ve ever seen. M&M World.

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It was 4 full levels of (absolutely free) mayhem.

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We roamed around this chaotic mini-amusement park for awhile and walked out with 3 pairs of M&M socks and a mini-football. Random.

Wednesday morning came, and we realized we only had 2 days left. Time to play high-speed tourist.

We walked out of our hotel and across Green Park to Buckingham Palace (sorry for the sideways video).

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Well, some of us walked; others of us skipped, hopped, and ran.

We saw the Palace, looked at the guards and then hailed a cab because we didn’t want to wait another hour until the guards were changing. Guess we’ll see that next time.

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Next stop: The Tower of London.

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Our Beefeater Tour Guide was the best we’ve ever seen–but he made taking his photograph expressly forbidden. Seeing as he was wielding a sword, I didn’t push the envelope.

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After so many completely ordinary meals, we decided to step it up a bit. More than a bit, actually. 

We left the Tower of London and headed over to Covent Garden and wandered right up to Russ’s favorite restaurant:  Balthazar. Now most people would never dream of taking 3 small boys to such a place, but we gave it a go. 

It was a raging success.

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This meal was incredible. The weather was awesome, we were over our jet-lag, the food was unbelievable, we were on our way to see a play–we were the happiest little group of 5 people you’ve ever seen.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Drury Lane did not disappoint. Even though the Gene Wilder film version is one of our favorite movies, Theo had never seen it. Remember seeing Willy Wonka’s wonderland for the first time? It was magical seeing Theo’s reaction.

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Covent Garden is so photogenic.

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After the show, we somehow ended up riding in a rickshaw. Um, yeah. Poor guy. 

We hit one more major tourist spot before eating dinner at a Japanese noodle house (which was also incredible; Wednesday was a slam-dunk of a day as far as meals went.).

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And finally back to the hotel for this…again. (The novelty never wore off.)

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Did I really think I could wrap this whole thing up in today’s post? We have only one day left in London, though, so I promise the next installment–in which we venture out of London yet again–is the last one and you won’t have to hear about London again for awhile.