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Trip Report Nine days on the ground in London: A trip report

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On July 3, 2011, our family left Kansas City for nine days in London. This is our story, written in installments. (I intended to write the whole thing and post, but it's pretty long!)

A little background: My husband is a fund-raising consultant, and he was traveling to London to participate in a conference of the Institute of Fundraisers, England’s professional association of fundraisers. He had to be at the conference part of Tuesday and all day Wednesday. The rest of his stay was play time.

All of it was play time for us, his family. That includes the wife – yours truly; our three kids – DS15, DD13 and DS8; and my husband’s parents, whom we invited because they wanted to take a trip with us, and we didn’t want to take another cruise (the inlaws’ preferred mode of travel.)

I couldn’t have planned this trip without the help of those who contribute to the Fodor’s forums. I took your suggestions and worked them around our schedule and interests, and we had one of our best vacations ever. Thanks so much.

That said, some of our most wonderful memories were made when our original plans fell through or had to be tweaked because of various pitfalls.

After I planned the itinerary, I took Big Russ’s advice and went to http://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/, where I searched for coupons we could use. I printed out several, and they really saved us!

Here we go!

Sunday/Monday: We left Kansas City Sunday, connected in Detroit to a London-bound flight and landed at Heathrow around 7:30 a.m. Monday. Luckily, we slept a little on the flight. A year earlier, our DD8 was so excited on the way to Paris that he talked nonstop all the way to the poor sap sitting next to him – that would be me. This time, DD8 knew the drill and took a snooze.

The first glitch – one bag didn’t leave Detroit. It was my mother-in-law’s toiletry bag, which contained her meds for a chronic health condition. She, of course, had a couple days’ worth in her purse, but it was a little stressful. And it made for a late night, since Delta didn’t get it to us until about 11 p.m. But everything turned out OK.

We had booked a car with Addison Lee, and the driver was waiting outside the terminal when we arrived. In about an hour, we arrived at our flat in Kensington. http://www.vrbo.com/303500 What a great location! It’s on Edge Street, a dead-end street that runs into Kensington Church Street two blocks south of Notting Hill Gate and the tube station. The owners’ agent met us there. The flat was being cleaned, so he gave us a tour before we stowed our luggage and headed out.

First stop: some place to eat. Just by the Tube station entrance we found Eat, one of a chain of sandwich bars http://www.eat.co.uk/pages/where_78.shtml. Everyone found something to like there, where the food is fresh and healthy and prepared daily. After a bite to eat, we were ready to tackle the city.

Notting Hill Gate Tube station turned out to be a great base, since three lines go through there: the Central, District and Circle lines. We bought one-day passes and took the Central line to Waterloo Station, where we then bought the paper Travelcards Big Russ recommended – we needed these Travelcards to use the two-for-one deals from the Daysout Guide. We bought zones 1 and 2 and only had to buy extenders for outside these zones twice during our trip – once to go to Salisbury and once for Hampton Court.

Afterward, we left the station and went to the South Bank. Our intent was to ride the London Eye. It was a great day – sunny, warm. So everyone else was in line to ride the Eye, too! We decided to catch the Eye another time, so we started walking west along the Thames. The kids loved the performers near the Eye. We just enjoyed the scenery. Our destination was the Globe Theatre, but we just meandered. We walked past a book sale and people fishing off wharves. Not far from the National Theatre, we came upon some huge oversized furniture. It was the perfect place for a rest.

At Caffe Alba, we paused for another break at some bistro tables outside. Most in our party enjoyed a gelato while we watched a fisherman reel in eels, which, he explained, he serves with mash.

With the Olympics coming to London in 2012, there’s lots of construction going on. So we had a slight detour up and over the Queen’s Walk to get to the Globe Theatre, but no worries. We walked around outside the Globe, taking photos. We considered taking the tour, but our kids weren’t into it. My mother-in-law had been before, and my father-in-law, husband and I decided we’d rather spend our time elsewhere.

Next on the itinerary was walking across the Milennium Bridge. This was awesome! I was really nervous because I have a bridge phobia, but I faced my fear and plowed ahead. The view of St. Paul’s as we walked across was worth it, not to mention the views up and down the river. Lots of great photo ops for my in-laws, who are voracious photographers.

It was really warm that day – in the upper 70s, low 80s. We were hot and getting tired. So in a little green space across St. Paul’s Churchyard, we collapsed! Collapsed, I tell you. We took a little respite there, maybe 15 minutes or so. By now, it was mid-afternoon.

Our destination on this side of the Thames – the Museum of London. It’s not far from St. Paul’s, but for the kiddos, it seemed like a haul. However, there were so many sights to see – our first red telephone booth, intriguing little side streets, pubs with colorful names. As we strolled down Aldersgate Street, we found a plaque explaining what the alder gate was – one of the ancient Roman gates. As I read the plaque, I said aloud that this must be close to where John Wesley founded the Methodist movement. I looked across the street, and there was a little courtyard with an ancient church surrounded by ancient tombstones. And inside the cool courtyard was a plaque explaining that this was the spot where Wesley had his conversion experience. For a family of United Methodists, this was a surprising and somewhat spiritual experience.

We lingered a bit before continuing on down the street to the Museum of London. Outside is a piano begging to be played, and our three musical kids obliged before we headed inside. What a cool museum! It’s free, and it tells the story of London from prehistory to present day. Our DD8 fell asleep, and my mother-in-law was exhausted, too. So they warmed a bench while the rest of us toured the museum. Later in our visit to London, my husband thanked me for pushing us to visit this museum on our first day, as it gave us an overview of what we’d be seeing later. Especially interesting to me were the bits on the plague and the Great Fire. One of the coolest things at that museum were the benches you could carry through to sit when you needed to.

We left the museum and headed down Aldersgate to the St. Paul tube station, when is on the Central line. That took us right back to Notting Hill Gate.

Our flat was not only two blocks from the tube, but two blocks south of our flat on Kensington Church Street was the Churchill Arms (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g186338-d718509-Reviews-Churchill_Arms-London_England.html), a great traditional pub with the most awesome Thai kitchen in the back. We ate there that first night, and we felt instantly at home. In fact, all of us remarked that day that London felt so right. We were so happy to be there!

More later…

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