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London – five days with two teen boys

Old Apr 11th, 2014, 10:26 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2013
Posts: 187
London – five days with two teen boys

Happened to log on and noticed a couple of people asking how we got on in London! The trip was September 2013, travelling on my own with 14yo and 12yo, so here are some snippets. Thanks so much to those who helped in the planning.

First up, we loved it. London was vibrant, clean, alive and offered SO much.

Day 1
Early morning arrival (from Australia). Met by driver from Just Airports (45GBP). Used debit card at airport to withdraw GBP (no problem at all – glad I didn’t bring pounds from home, had been hesitant about this). Parkwood Hotel at Marble Arch. Too early for check-in so went nearby for a light meal. Unusual (for us): a bar that served coffee and beer, plus a meal. Boys soon informed me of the gleaming, lavish bathroom down miles of polished wooden stairs! Already having fun.

Later, across the road to Hyde Park to stroll past the Italian Gardens, Peter Pan statue, Serpentine, etc. Boys fascinated with first sight of a squirrel (we don't have). World Triathlon Championships happened to be on, so this was a bit of a bonus for athlete 14yo. Also saw Buckingham Palace. Black cabs. Beautiful, well-kept gardens everywhere.

After a few wrong turns found Victoria Stn where I queued up (for ages) at ticket office for 7-day travel cards, Zones 1–2 (had brought passport-sized photos). This turned out to be a great decision IMO. No messy topping up, and we definitely got our money’s worth since we went everywhere by tube. Also entitled us to 2-4-1 deals.

First experience on tube hilarious. Boys couldn’t get over the pace at which people moved! ‘Calm down, everyone!’ 14yo said. Took tube to Westminster (I think) and there were gasps at sight of Big Ben on exiting. Walked across bridge to Southbank, wandered along taking it all in and bought ice creams. Photos with Houses of Parliament in background. All flagging by day’s end. Enough.

Day 2
Fat Tire Bike tour. Met tour leader at Waterloo Stn, then headed down to the Banksy Tunnel for the bikes. This was an absolutely brilliant morning. What a way to see London! Through back streets, across parks, over bridges. London Eye, W. Abbey, Westminster school, Samuel Johnson’s House, millennium bridge, Covent Garden... We had a fabulous guide (Craig), who was full of enthusiasm and funny and informative (had no idea the ‘green bridge’ and the ‘red bridge’ held significance, or that Big Ben was tilting). A touch of rain, but no matter. The boys loved it. And it gave me a break from being the guide. No way would we have seen half of what we did otherwise. It’s active, and if you have active teens – do it! And 14yo announced during the tour he wanted to live in London.

I think after that we went to ‘the biggest Nike store in the world’. Wow, what a scene. Funnily enough, 12yo no longer really interested in seeing car showrooms! Phew. Good.

Day 3
Tower of London in the morning. Long queues – I guess this is to be expected, but not something we relish! Though we certainly did enjoy the Tower.

Afternoon we went on a Muggles walking tour. It had turned cold and windy, which didn’t help, but still fun. Particularly JK Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley (off Charing X Rd) with its original streetlamps, and its bookshops, where she spent hours poring over books on ‘magick’.

I think after this we had an early meal at a cosy Italian eatery nearby. Perfect. I always find that to sit down to a nice meal or hot chocolate/coffee lifts the spirits in an instant. Glass of wine helps too.

Day 4
The absolute highlight of London (apologies to all those museum- and gallery-philes!!): Harry Potter WB Studio Tour, Watford. Don’t miss it if your kids are HP fans. It is wonderful. Boys had brought their own money for ‘extras’, which included the photos of them riding Quidditch brooms and in the flying car – great souvenirs. Many ‘sets’ such as boys’ dormitory, Ministry of Magic, the Burrow, Dumbledore’s office, Snape’s potion-making classroom, Diagon Alley. Entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. Insight into the making of the movies, models of Hogwart’s. Outside you can walk across the bridge (that leads to Hogwart's), and hop on the Knight Bus, and see 4 Privet Drive. Oh, and buy a butterbeer.

Back in the city that afternoon we paid a fleeting visit to the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone, but really no time or energy to do the museum justice.

That night we went to The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly Circus. Preceded by an uninspiring, cheap Thai meal down a side street. The show was an absolute hoot! Top choice. Loved the theatre itself, too, including the old-fashioned mini buckets of ice-cream served at interval. Back home, 14yo said that this play was actually one of the highlights for him. Warmed my heart.

Day 5
Covent Garden. I settled them down with donuts to watch a street performer while I found a pharmacy to buy a Maison Pearson hairbrush! That was my only ‘must buy’ apart from a Burberry trenchcoat! The price of the latter could not be justified (or afforded), though I did enjoy trying it on.

Next we headed for St Paul’s and loved wending our way up the narrow stairs all the way to the top. Whispering Gallery intriguing. Back down we emerged onto the steps in freezing, lashing rain so tottered across the road to a ‘Parisian’ café, which was one of those spirit-lifting choices, esp. since due to head for Paris the next day.

In the afternoon I wanted to buy a Gap trenchcoat (more my price) at Oxford Circus, so boys came too and luckily helped with quick decision. Then I thought they deserved a treat for the last day, so suggested Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Yes, tacky, but hey! First stop Lillywhites (which they’d spied the night before), and they each bought a pair of shoes.

By this stage they were racing round the tube like old hands, so I said that they could go to Ripley’s on their own and then make their way back to the hotel at Marble Arch. Great decision! I left them there and proceeded to wander at a leisurely pace down Regent Street (yes, in and out of shops), and took myself home. The boys duly turned up unharmed and said they’d had a great time.

One night, can’t remember which, we went to Notting Hill to the Churchill Arms pub that was recommended on the forum. Turned out to be crazy busy, so it was probably Friday or Saturday night. Too crowded and a long wait for a table, so not for us that night, though it did look good. Instead, in desperation, we found another pub in the area and probably had the most disappointing and overpriced meal on our entire trip. For 14yo, the ‘cook’ had upended a packet of cornchips on a plate, sprinkled cheese over it, shoved it under the griller (broiler) and called it Nachos!! Awful. I think it was about 18GBP.

Athlete son made good use of Hyde Park for his running training (just as well, since that was the reason we stayed nearby!).

I’m afraid we never made it to the War Rooms, and it soon became clear that we wouldn’t be making the trip to Hampton Court. It was just too much travelling time out of a day. We didn’t get to the Natural History Museum either, or London Eye, or O2. Or Greenwich! We had wanted to go to The Globe, but simply couldn’t fit it in, in the end. Trafalgar Sq was unfortunately taken over by Triathlon tents, etc. so no climbing over lions. Though we did see the blue cockerel! But I think we did darn well, all up. We thoroughly enjoyed the things we chose to do and just loved London. Thanks to all for thoughtful advice.
smm_18 is offline  
Old Apr 11th, 2014, 10:50 PM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 66,891
Phew! you actually accomplished a lot (too bad about HCP - but another time maybe)

I remember your original thread . . . Can you even imagine how much you thought you could squeeze in when you first started planning?

Wasn't the 39 Steps wonderful! Good choice.
janisj is online now  
Old Apr 11th, 2014, 10:54 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 20,063
If it's any consolation, there was a visitor to London who remarked on the speed of Londoners' walking in the thirteenth century!
PatrickLondon is offline  
Old Apr 12th, 2014, 12:11 AM
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 64
My husband is English. The second we land he turns up his speed to London, leaving his US-citizen wife and US-raised children in the dust. It's amusing, yet infuriating...
AlysonRR is offline  
Old Apr 12th, 2014, 12:56 AM
Join Date: Jan 2005
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You allowed two intelligent able-bodied boys to make a short journey in London on their own? I'll report you to social services ;-)
MissPrism is offline  
Old Apr 12th, 2014, 03:43 AM
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 17,825
Nice report, thank you.

There was a recent article in the UK about city walking speeds and that Hong Kong followed by Singapore have the fastest peds.
bilboburgler is online now  
Old Apr 12th, 2014, 03:55 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 53,485
after 15+ years living in the sticks, I still find myself impatiently pushing my way past lingering tourists who were getting in my way on my rare trips to London. But in Paris, I'm one of those lingerers, getting under parisian feet.

sounds like a great trip, smm - are you going to tell us about Paris too?
annhig is offline  
Old Apr 12th, 2014, 07:33 AM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 3,290
great TR - thanks for sharing. We were in London last spring with similar aged kids and also loved the bike tour, the WB studio tour and the Muggles walking tour. Interesting and fun to hear that it was successful for you, also!

looking forward to hearing about Paris!
surfmom is offline  
Old Apr 12th, 2014, 10:34 AM
Join Date: Apr 2004
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Thanks for coming back and posting. It sounds like you all had a wonderful trip.

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Old Apr 12th, 2014, 11:44 AM
Join Date: Jun 2013
Posts: 173
Glad to hear you had fun. I've got a friend coming over to London in July with nephew and great nephew (the latter in his early teens) - the bike ride sounds ideal for the two "boys" and would let me off the hook for at least half a day of guiding!
Grindeldoo is offline  
Old Apr 12th, 2014, 05:02 PM
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Posts: 187
Thanks, everyone. Yes, with a transport system second to none, i.e. a train every couple of minutes, we couldn't quite understand the need to hurry! Never forget the picture of 14yo close behind a man mimicking him running down escalator. Man unaware. I was doubled up in hysterics looking down at them. Cheeky, I know.

Janisj – I certainly remember the planning! But I'd always planned to be flexible, and we only really had to do the things I'd paid for in advance (Warner Bros, Fat Tire Bikes, Muggles, 39 Steps – yes this was wonderful, so glad I chose this out of so many theatre options). I'm really happy with the way things went, and they have good memories. Another time...

Not sure about Paris TR. I didn't keep a journal, which is unlike me, since I found any downtime was taken up with logistical stuff (planning routes, money reckoning, etc. etc.). I'll see!
smm_18 is offline  
Old Apr 12th, 2014, 05:06 PM
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 1,259
Glad to read your trip report. Thanks for sharing. Too bad about Hampton Court but there is never enough time to do it all. On our first trip we left out a few things that we couldn't get to either like Greenwich and the Natural History Museum etc.. More incentive to go back again.

As long as you enjoyed what you did that is the most important thing. Would also love to hear about your Paris adventures.
europeannovice is offline  
Old Apr 13th, 2014, 04:19 AM
Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 2,989
smm_18, Thanks for getting back to us. I was interested in your query since I am encouraging my daughter and family to plan a trip to London soon with their girl 10 and boy 14. The bike ride and visit to Harry Potter venue sound great.

Your boys sound very excited - a trip they will never forget. Glad that you gave them their own space too.

Be assured - NO ONE does everything they plan on any given trip to London which is why most of us end up returning.

Also interested in your Paris jaunt even if you can't give a day by day account.
latedaytraveler is offline  
Old Apr 13th, 2014, 04:33 PM
Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 2,627
Congratulaltions on doing so much advance research that everyone was prepared to have fun -- and still flexible about the schedule. Also kudos for avoiding the West End musicals, part of international commerce, for the sake of a more intimate theatre and a chestnut that seems to have weathered well enough for your young adventurers.
Southam is offline  
Old Apr 15th, 2014, 10:51 AM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 602
I'm interested in knowing what your boys enjoyed the most, what they thought were the highlights, of Paris? Like others have said, doesn't have to be detailed. Thank you for returning with your trip report.
evecolorado is offline  
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