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.



(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.)


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

The Globe Theatre


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



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.



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

View from a porthole–looking back towards London.


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

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


You have no idea how much this thing weighed…


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

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


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:

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


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.

The nerd in me was so excited about this:


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


Total coolness.

East meets West.

I told you the park was magnificent.

Tucker gets in a random headstand.


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


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.)


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.


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.

a very tired Theo in a black cab

Tuck’s version of levitating Yoda

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.


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.


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.)

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.


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.


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?)


Butter beer. Just gross.


Diagon Alley was spectacular.


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.


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


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.).


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


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


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).


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.


Next stop: The Tower of London.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Covent Garden is so photogenic.


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.).


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


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.

spring break…or, London with youngsters, part I

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

This post is a bit delayed. Forgive me; jet lag ain’t fun.

We took the boys across the pond for Spring Break this year; now that we’ve definitely survived, I have to say it was the best adventure yet.


Our flight left Atlanta at 10:30pm on a Friday night, so you realize we were setting ourselves up to deal with painfully exhausted boys from the very moment we left the house. I have several friends who’ve all gone to London with their own kiddos, and all of them gave the same advice:  once you land, hit the ground running. So that was our original plan–though in truth, we were going to play it by ear.

Uncle David met us at the airport and helped keep boys on the correct side of the road as we navigated the way from Heathrow to our hotel.


Ha. Thank you Park Lane Hotel for not having our room ready. We had no choice but to hit the ground running. We dumped our luggage and headed out to find some lunch. The concierge sent us around the corner from the hotel to Shepherd Market where we were reminded of Europe’s number 1 rule for eating out:  if the restaurant isn’t crowded, the food isn’t good.

tired child #1

tired child #2

miraculously untired child, ready to take London by storm

We walked in circles for about twenty minutes before deciding on a small Italianesque cafe with outdoor seating. This reminded us of Europe’s number 2 rule for dining out:  pasta will always work.

Russ ordered wine. I look at him with my glassed over, sleep deprived eyes and reminded him that it was technically 7 in the morning. “Back in Atlanta,” he replied. Ok, then. When in Rome and all that. Pass me a glass.


Where do you go on your first sightseeing adventure in London with small children who’ve slept maybe 4 hours? Somewhere lively, exciting, and kid-friendly, right? Somewhere where they could be loud and run around and–oh, yes–get some sunshine.

You were thinking the underground catacombs and bunkers of the WWII command center for Winston Churchill, weren’t you?

We were, too.

Off we went to the Churchill War Rooms.

Look at the combination of clothing on this boy. If that doesn’t scream “jet lag,” I don’t know what does…

The War Rooms were actually amazing…for everyone. And some patterns were beginning to be established:  Jack wanted to soak it all in. If there was an audio tour, he would listen. If there were placards, he would read them. Jack was sure to get the most bang for the buck at every single place we visited.


Seeing the Cabinet War Rooms was incredible. We are so very fortunate that none of our boys has endured any type of war like the World Wars; the whole concept of bombs falling on the very city where we were staying blew their minds.


We left the War Rooms and stumbled around outside for a few minutes before realizing there was no way on Earth we could walk all the way back to our hotel. Time for public transportation.

Flashback:  once upon a time, Theo was absolutely obsessed with buses.


This infatuation was rekindled the very second he saw his first double-decker bus. Theo would shout it out to everyone…anyone…”DOUBLE DECKER BUS!!” He used his iTouch to take hundreds of pictures of double decker buses. If he’d had it his way, we’d have just ridden around London on a bus for a week. We decided to go ahead and nip this one in the bud, so we hopped a bus and rode it back to our hotel.

Theo didn’t want to get off.

We got back to our hotel–which had a giant revolving door at the front that beckoned to Tucker every time we came near it. He couldn’t stand it. He’d get in there and run until we started screaming or get in it and go around and around and around until the hotel doorman came up or get it in and stop it mid-way around until other hotel guests started beating on it. This happened every single time we left or returned to the hotel. It was maddening.

Tucker’s excuse? “I just can’t stand it. It’s too awesome.”

Anyway, when we finally got off the double decker bus and through the revolving door (between buses and doors, 2/3 of our boys were convinced London was the best place on Earth) and back to the front desk of the hotel around 5pm, we were beyond exhausted. We were punch-drunk and silly and couldn’t see straight, and our room still wasn’t ready. Russ discussed options with the clerk while the boys and I all lay on the floor. Of the lobby. While a Sikh wedding processed by us. Low point for the Americans, for sure.

We finally got up to our room and still needed a cot for Theo. I called down for it and then promptly passed out cold on top of the bed. Russ dealt with our own revolving door of visitors: housekeeping showing up with a crib (because, you know, that’s what the British call a “cot.” Rookie mistake; chalk it up to lack of sleep), returning with the American cot, returning again to put sheets on the cot and then coming yet again for some unknown reason. People were in and out of our room for nearly an hour, and I did not move an inch. It was the best power-nap I’ve ever taken.

No one else slept, though, due to all the in-and-out going on. We walked down the road to dinner (we sold out and went to the Hard Rock Cafe (don’t shudder) because A) it was close, and B) we knew the boys would eat). Jack fell asleep in his chair at the table and then fell right out of it onto the floor.


We were done for Day 1.

Sunday arrived and we all felt pretty good which was a good thing since someone had over scheduled our day.

Rookie mistake #2:  somehow I calculated the time change backwards when booking all of our tickets. Total idiot. So Sunday morning we had tickets for the London Eye at 11am–which is a completely reasonable time of day in the real world, but when you are barely 24 hours into the jet-lagged world, it still feels very much like the 6am you are used to.

But the London Eye was totally worth it.


Purchasing tickets ahead of time was a must-do. We zipped right up to the Eye-equivalent of the Disney FastPass while the rest of the line snaked around underneath us forever.

It goes without saying that the views were incredible.


Did I say that the boys used their iTouches as cameras the entire time? I loved watching them take pictures–even if most of them were of things like pigeons and buskers and double-decker buses. Every now and then, I’d look over and catch them capturing something terrific.

(I’m sure the good folk of London were convinced our boys were complete video game addicts, but that would be an utterly incorrect assumption. At least in London…check with us back home and you are likely to find them all knee-deep in Mindcraft or Terraria (what on earth is that?), but in London…nope. They were all budding Ansel Adamses.)

After the Eye, we were met by my sweet Uncle David (or “Uncle Beardy,” as the boys call him). He’s lived in London for well over 20 years and raised 2 boys there, so he was a solid resource. We laughed later because our Sunday afternoon had a definite nautical theme, but it was terrific.

We left the Eye and walked along the Thames for awhile. After an ordinary lunch (Uncle Beardy’s words; remember the first rule of dining in Europe? Yeah, we forgot about it, too…), we stopped at the Golden Hinde, a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s 16th century sailing vessel.

Tucker at his completely ordinary meal at Doggett’s Coat & Badge (although the tomato soup wasn’t half bad…)

on board The Golden Hinde

There’s a reason all those sailors were crazy; I cannot imagine sailing across a sea in this cramped and tiny ship. No way. I could barely stand upright in the belly of the ship, and I’m only 5’3″. In a day long before the invention of Dramamine, I can’t even fathom how sick its crew was.


Of course Uncle Beardy had brought the boys to the right place. They thought the boat was a miniature model. Oh, no, cowboys. This puppy was built to scale. It’s one heck of an awesome floating museum. The boys ran, climbed, explored and accidentally sat in on a scheduled youth presentation.



We left one boat and headed to the next (told you it was a nautical themed day).


Next stop: the HMS Belfast.


Wow. Just wow.

This was amazing. I just wish we had gotten to it earlier in the day. I think Jack and I could have spent hours here, but the rest of the family was withering a bit.

Jack and his audio tour.

The Belfast has 9 huge levels, each packed with information on the day-to-day life of a navy sailor as well as other exhibitions detailing WWII and D-Day. Intense. You want to talk about some brave people? These folks had courage in spades. I loved how Jack was full of questions about it all, and how we were able to talk about Papa B. (my grandfather) and his breathtakingly heroic actions in Normandy. (The lessons didn’t stop at the Belfast; Jack was able to see Papa B’s Silver Star and citation back at Uncle Beardy’s house. There just are no words for this. Incredible.)

After all that heavy history, Tucker was begging to see something a little less intense. You know, something like a prison or torture chamber (his words). So while Uncle David refueled at Starbucks, the rest of us visited The Clink, a prison museum dating back to the 1100’s.

Touristy? Yes.
Fun? Well, actually, yes.

For a kid who loves Halloween, this place knocked his socks off (or, at least his shoes…).

We were all truly exhausted by this point, so we began to make our way to the train station to head out to Uncle Beardy’s house for dinner.


David lives right on a huge, gorgeous park. We had tea and then supper with him, our Aunt Debbie (whose birthday it was), and our super-fab cousin Will who was a life-saver and took the boys out in the backyard to play ping-pong and upstairs to see his brother Nick’s drum set (both of which quickly catapulted Will to hero level in Tuck’s book).

Sadly, this is the only shot I have of Debbie…and it’s only of her back. The photographer was worn out by this point. But check out that amazing park!

We cabbed it back to the hotel, endured the revolving door drama, cleaned up and crashed out. The boys we tucked in that night were some of the happiest we’ve seen. And our adventure had just begun; Part II includes a triple-decker bus (!!), a matinee on Drury Lane, a fancy French restaurant (twice), and more museums than you can shake a stick at…hopefully to be posted soon.