Family of 4 in London- Trip Report

Old Aug 2nd, 2008, 02:05 PM
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Family of 4 in London- Trip Report

Day 1 - Arrival: After long and tiring journey from Ft. Lauderdale to Newark to Gatwick - in a much too cramped plane, finally arrived in London, two hours late, at about 10:45 London time. After passing through immigration, which took a very long time, we were met by our hired car - from The Airport Transfer Company. The driver couldn't have been nicer - and offered to stop along the way at various convenience stores and train stations so we could get our travel car/oyster card thing straight. The trip cost £57 - the cheapest quote I got, and I can't imagine a better experience from another car hire company.

In the planning of our trip, after all the posts I read about travel - vs- oyster card - after all the advice I got, even from the British Rail and London Transport Office (I corresponded with both by email) I still got it wrong! Since we are stayng outside of inner London, in Nunhead, not accessible by tube, we have to take overland trains every day to get in and out of London. The Oyster card is not taken on overland trains. Instead, we purchased the travel cards that would allow us to go anywhere and at anytime on trains, tubes, buses. I had even pre-ordered photocards for my kids, but it doesn't make sense to use them since I had to buy them travel cards anyway.

Anyway, finally got to Nunhead and crashed a while before heading out to seek adventure. Figured the bus routes quickly and jumped on the No. 12 right down the street from us - which took us right to the London Eye. Got there around 6:30 pm - the lines were long but moved fast, and we boarded in no time. The kids were thrilled to be in those little bubbles - I thought it was great because I was in London and could make out some of the more well-known sights, but many others might not think it was worthwhile. We had lovely weather for it though.

We walked along the South Bank - crowded but thrilling because of where we were, and headed back home to Nunhead - again on the No. 12. Had wonderful falafel sandwiches at a little Lebanese dive not too far from where we are staying. We were told the neighborhood was dodgy - and it probably is, but we feel right at home as we live in a very multi-cultural area in Miami. All the smells, sounds, music, food in the markets - the people - it all seems very familiar and we feel right at ease here.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2008, 02:20 PM
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Wonder if we were there at the same time, last 2 weeks of July?

Good details in your report; having just finished mine, I know the effort it takes to do this, but it's worth it both for the benefit of others and for your record too. I look forward to the rest.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2008, 02:21 PM
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Oh - this is great - doing your report while you are IN London! It will be fun to share all your adventures while you are having them . . . .

"The trip cost £57" just to explain to others why it was so much more than other car services quoted on other threads - you guys are staying quite some ways south of the river and not in one of the usual tourist hot spots
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Old Aug 2nd, 2008, 02:24 PM
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TBW: The needsnow family just arrived in London - I think yesterday but I may have lost count a day or two . . . .
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Old Aug 2nd, 2008, 02:31 PM
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I love it when posters sacrifice time for us while on their trips. Looking forward to more . . .
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Old Aug 2nd, 2008, 03:01 PM
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So glad you've got the buses sorted: you must have passed my office on the 12.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2008, 03:51 PM
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needsnow:

Good start.

Where are you staying in Nunhead? Details please.

Sandy
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Old Aug 2nd, 2008, 07:47 PM
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needsnow - thanks for posting during your trip - looking forward to hearing how the driving works out!
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Old Aug 3rd, 2008, 02:00 PM
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The best laid plans...
Nothing is as we thought.
Day 2. Nothing is as we thought because we are mor tired than we thought we would ever be. Plus- so much to see at every sight, and while we planned to do maybe 4 things every day - we find we barely have enough time for 2.

To add to my previous post, we are staying at friend's house in Nunhead- post code SE 15. This is south of the Thames and the train station is Peckham Rye. We are so out of inner London that we are not even on a tube stop. Staying out here while our friends are out of town is peaceful and lovely, but harder too.. our travel into inner London daily takes an extra 45 minutes.

Anyway, we woke up late, havng overslept - so our original plans to do the Tower were scratched. Instead, we hurredly made a quick brekfast, slapped some cheese and bread together for sandwiches to take with us and headed out around 9 am to Peckham Rye station - took train to Vitoria Station and then walked to Buckingham Palace. We had a little rain, so no changing of the guards which was a bit of a disappointment as I don't know if we will have time to get back there at 11:30 before we leave. We peered through the gates and walked around the palace and the kids were impressed. Then we strode through the Green Park and saw the Canadian memorial - with a very nice fountain. From there we went through Piccadilly, down Pall Mall to Trafalgar Square. We loved the energy and liveliness surrounding the square: filled with interesting people,we heard the soap box presentations, the kids climbed the lions and we took pictures. Then went inside to the National Gallery - gorgeous and crammed with people. Nice stuff, nice gift shops, and nice people helpful with information. We went back to the Square afterwards for some more people watching and found a quiet corner to eat our pretty dismal sandwiches. Kids hated not having a proper lunch - but economy, economy. Before we left home I told them , ~Yes, we#re going to London but we have to budget - only one meal out!" So we pack a lunch and eat cheaply at night. Back to report.
After we ate we walked across to St. Martin-in-the-Fields - so beautiful in its simplicity -loved the window over the altar and the sculpture/statue right out front. Someone help me here - I didn't catch the name of the artist - but it is of a newborn baby - Christ I imagine - emerging from a rough pillar of concrete, umbilical cord still attached with the inscription on the pillar reading..."in the beginning was the word..". Inside, we were lucky enough to catch a rehearsal for a Handel concert and that was great to hear, especially in that beautiful setting.
After we walked to the National Portrait Gallery - and that was a real treat. It was remarkably empty - which came as a surprise, but eachand every room was thrilling. We all loved it - even the 14-year-old boy, who had originally complained about another museum.

We emerged form there around 5pm or so and walked to Oxford Street so my daughter could get her TopShop fix. It was packed and crowded and hot and I was so overwhelmed by so many floors and so may articles of clothing..I would have left if I hadn't promised her a stop there. My husband and son went next door to Top Man, but came out 5 minutes later - my son hated everything in there, but he may not be typical. He dresses like a skater.. and he said the clothes for teen boys were just "gross!" Don't know how to interpret that. TopShop was gross! Discarded clothes were on the floor, trampled over by hordes of young girls. The place was hot, and much of the jewelry and accessories I have seen before at Urban Outfitters in the US, for less money and Urban is expensive in my opinion. Anyway, it is easy to lose your daughter there - so be careful. I went out of the changing rooms to get her another size of something and went into 3 different changing rooms before I found her again. She found the best 2 items in the place on the sale rack and was thrilled. She' 16 - so that was an accomplishment.

After that experience we walked back the way we came, back to Trafalger and found a Wagamama noodle restaurant right nearby, which we read about before we arrived in London.The place was cramped, you sit on long tables next to other customers - it was bsutling and loud but quite fun. We waited about 10 minutes for a table, ordered form a menu with many choices, and the food comes out in about 3 minutes - no joke! Kids had spicy chicken things with intersting sauces - my husband had a seafood noodle soup bowl and was disappointeed with the amount of seafood, and I had a vegetarian noodle soup thing and it was so filling I ended up taking most of it home with me. Kids ordered a chocolate wasabi cake that was surpisingly delicious. We left about £40 poorer - but happier so maybe we left £50 richer?

Took the No. 12 bus home - got in around 10pm. Crashed!

One very important thing: We walked a lot as we usually do, and the kids are fine with all that walking. But it does do things to your feet. I ignored postsabout comfortable walking shoes,and the kids swore they were fine in their Converse low-tops (the worlds' most UN-comfortable shoe in MY opinion) - but I figured I would let them make their own mistakes. What mistakes they made - what mistakes I made. Blisters galore, sore soles, everbody limping back home. Do not listen to yor kids - all you travelers out there - make them wear comfortable walking shoes.
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Old Aug 4th, 2008, 06:08 AM
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Reading your report with much interest; I appreciate the details and honesty.

I'll second your sadly-learned-from-experience recommendation about shoes: Function over fashion for now!

And what a memory to be able to shop with your DD (who in another blink will be 25/30/40 years old!)

Hope you make/made it to the Tower.
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Old Aug 4th, 2008, 07:06 AM
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GREAT report. I love that you are reporting on things just as you see them, before time passes and starts to filter your experiences. Feels just like being there.
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Old Aug 4th, 2008, 01:34 PM
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Read over my last two posts and I am embarassed about all my typos. Sorry to any picky readers out there.

Day 3. Woke up early so got an early start. Determined to do the Tower this morning. We left Nunhead around 8:15-train to London Bridge and walked fast, and were at the Tower of London just before 9. Silly me - it was Sunday and the Tower opens at 10. But not so silly it turns out, as we were second in line to get in and before you knew it, the crowds converged. Seriously, the line grew by leaps and bounds with every passing minute.

As we were waiting, the family just in front of us had formed a relationship with the gate-keeper on duty. The gate-keeper was giving them secret little ins and outs of the Tower experience and advising them where to go and what to do first. The whole things was very cabal like and was a little funny - though kind of rude too. Once the gates officially opened at 10 - that family took off, looking over their shoulder to see if anyone was gaining on them. But I suppose we have all read about getting there early and doing the Crown Jewels first thing to avoid the masses - but they really took it to the extreme.Competition follows you even when you travel!

For us, the Jewels came first of course, and they were lovely and I wished there were more. I thought the other towers and exhibits were fascinating. We spent about 3 hours there - the 14-year-old boy loved the weaponry and castles, especially the interactive exhibits at the armaments area. He wanted to stay for the re-enactment of some kind of fighting thing with peasants and knights - but we were running late and had to leave.

We did join the group with the Yeoman's tour - and our guide was very funny and animated - but it started to drizzle, slightly, and he stopped the tour abruptly, and said that we would have to join another one in 20 minutes or so. By then the crowds were so huge, we decided not to and walked aorund ourselves.I'm sure we missed something great by not catching the next one. On the green we found a bench and had our little dismal sandwiches brought from home. Kids are refusing to eat them now. Must find something else to pack.

We all adored this place - you feel the heavy weight of history just approaching the complex. We paid for this with our Historic Palaces Family membership - and this alone was worth the price.
After we stopped at the Paul's Cafe just outside the gate and had very good cappucino and croissants.

Then we walked over Tower Bridge to Shakespeare's Globe. Tickets were sold out but after going in to the store for a little while we then hung out outside the theatre door and got lucky enough to catch 4 groundlings leaving the play early. They gave us their tickets and we got inside and caught about 30 minites of King Lear. The acting was superb, especially King Lear, played I think by David Callum. We were rained on, the actors came into the audience, the acoustics were fine - it was a wonderful experience.

The Globe docents and staff do frown on people getting tickets from those leaving the theatre early - but I coudn't resist accepting them and getting that experience. It was worth a few disapproving looks.

After that we walked to the Tate Modern - also mobbed, could barely move in that huge space. A great building though, I think, and a nice way to see art. We saw some of the exhibits,and enjoyed them, but then left after about 1 hour or so.

Then at about 5 pm, we walked over Millenium Bridge into St Paul's. On Sundays there are no tours but we were allowed to walk into part of the cathedral and sit there and absorb its fabulousness - along with many others. The docents/volunteers were very helpful and answered many questions, and invited us to stay for services - which was very tempting. They are vigilant about no pictures in the cathedral and had to yell at a few tourists that tried to sneak some shots in. The kids lit candles and made donations and it was a very nice respite for us. Would have stayed for services but we would have had to wait a while and the service takes about 45 minutes. That night there was no choir, only organ music. The docent told us that the pipes on the organ upstairs are very new and very loud. So loud in fact that the Queen jumps when they sound and they now have to be re-calibrated to bring them down.

When we left, we walked down the hill to find a pub that was recommended to us by the docent at St. Pauls..The Old Bell (supposed to be reasonably priced with good food). But every single pub and restaurant was closed and we walked around like little starvlings looking for a place to eat. Decided to hop on a bus on Fleet Street to take us to Trafalgar - where we found a Pizza Express. Nice casual atmosphere, and food was great: two little pizzas for the kids for about £10 each, a little pepper appetizer for me (very good) and a tiny antipasto for my husband. The bill came to £30.30.

The final exerience: grabbing again the No. 12 bus to head for home. So it is about 7-8 pm on a Sunday night, and that bus was so damned packed you couldn't fit a pea in there. But the people kept coming, and coming, with the strollers and the huge shopping bags and the bus kept stopping and letting more people on. We were shocked. There had to be limit, I thought - but there wasn't. We finally made it to our neighborhood took some deep breaths and headed home - limping, of course because the shoe-foot issue is still an issue.


Day 4. Today is a truncated day as we got out a little later than I wanted and had to be back at our house by 4:30 for the rental car. So with not quite a full day ahead of us, we took the train to the tubes to get to Mme. Tussauds. Crowds? Around the block. Wait time?The staff said about 1 hour and 45 minutes. We did not stay, and plan to come back another day, early! We then walked to Kings Cross (for Platform 9 and 3/4) and the kids were secretly thrilled na dshy at first and then dove straight in and posed under the sign witht he cart halfway in the wall. Every other family was doing the same thing. That was a simple highlight, and it was free.
We then caught the tube to take us to the British Museum. On the way we stopped for lunch at an Indian restaurant right down the street - called Mandalbar EXpresss, I believe. We were taken downstairs for the prix fixe lunch - only those eating off the reuglar menu were allowed to eat in the dining room. The place was very clean, but totally empty, We got there about 12 noon - could be that Brits eat lunch later than we do?

Food was delicious and hearty and you had a choice of chicken, lamb and vegetarian stews with rice, soup, pickle, raita, and a bread stuffed with plantain. Only £5 per person. Not bad. Then we walked to the British Museum, packed of course, especially around the Rosetta Stone - we got chills just approaching the thing but you really had to push to get close to the display case. The Marbles were beautiful as were the Eyptian rooms and Roman rooms. Unfortunately didn't have time for Hadrian's Conflict exhibit and husband thought the African exhibits were not extensive enough. By that time it was time to go (about 3 pm) as Enterprise rental car agency was picking us up at our place to take us to get our car. Very nice people - I recommend them. Got a Prius for £27 per day. Fuel is cheap - I think it is a good option. Tomorrow we leave for Stonehenge and Bath and then the next day Stratford and Warwick. My husband drovethe 2 miles back to our house and I was screaming all the way. I am so very disoriented with these roads and with the left-side driving. Not usually a light-weight I surprise myself.

Tomorrow we will be away from the computer for our overnights out of London but will post again when we get back on Aug 7.

Wish us luck!
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Old Aug 4th, 2008, 02:14 PM
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GOOD LUCK!

(and quit screaming - it will get easier )

Quick hint if you see it in time. If you want to go to Mme Tussaud's - buy your tickets ahead of time. Either the day before at the ticket window - or just down the street from a store front near where the H-o-H-o buses stop. If you have your tix in hand you don't have to wait in that looooong queue.
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Old Aug 4th, 2008, 02:32 PM
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About driving in Britain -- I think it is MUCH easier to be the driver than the passenger, who must contend with stone walls flying past about 6" away from your head. You might seriously consider sitting in the back seat, behind your husband, and letting one of the fearless kids ride "shotgun".
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Old Aug 4th, 2008, 03:02 PM
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A fun report. Thanks!

I'd sure slip into the Globe with leftover groundling tickets. Why not? There's probably an appropriate WS quote about how little it matters however much the docents glare. David Calder, I think.

You were much better off spending time at the British Museum than at Tussauds -- I'll bet -- though haven't darkened the door at the waxworks. It's always a challenge trying to please 3 others along with yourself.

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Old Aug 4th, 2008, 07:17 PM
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Continuing to enjoy this tremendously. Can't wait to hear about your overnighters.
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Old Aug 4th, 2008, 07:50 PM
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What are groundling tickets (at the Globe)? (Will be in London end of the month with family of 5). I won't try the sandwich route, but Pizza Express and Wagamama are definitely on the list!
 
Old Aug 4th, 2008, 08:32 PM
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"What are groundling tickets?"

Groundlings are those attending the Globe in standing room in the well between the stage and the seats. Sort of like a courtyard in the center of the theatre. They are the cheapest tickets - but you are not allowed to sit down during the entire performance. Though they can sit on the ground during the intervals (intermissions)
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Old Aug 4th, 2008, 10:53 PM
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Your report is so interesting and I look forward to more when you return!
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Old Aug 5th, 2008, 01:13 AM
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The "fighting thing with peasants and knights"

Was probably a re-enactment of the storming of the Tower during the Peasant's Revolt in 1381.
About 400 rebels entered the Tower and bumped off the Archbishop of Canterbury, the King's Treasurer and John Legge, the creator of the Poll Tax
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