London, March 2017 - Mom & 2 teen boys

Old Apr 7th, 2017, 11:04 PM
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London, March 2017 - Mom & 2 teen boys

London Trip Report

I’ve been helped so much by these forums in planning so many journeys, I thought I’d give back from our latest trip…to London.

When: March 25-April 2, 2017

Who: Mom (me) & 2 sons, ages almost-15 and 12. So the latter is *not quite* a "teen" - but he acts like

Where: AL to ATL to London.

Background: We’ve been abroad several times, once for three months, but never to England. Reasonable fares to London from our part of the country at times we are able to travel are hard to come by. Just before Thanksgiving, AA ran a fare sale that was impossible to pass up. So we were able to get to London over the boys’ spring break for an average of about $400/ticket – mine a bit more, theirs a bit less.

General Observations: It was a great trip. I won’t say London is now my favorite city in the world – I tend to prefer the mid-sized European cities (Padova was my favorite of all time so far), but I have nothing negative to say about it, at all. And I will say that the most striking aspect of our time in London was the really quite extraordinary level of friendliness that we encountered from every single service/hospitality person in shops/restaurants/Tube/attractions. I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I’m from the South. Even the kids noticed it without my input. At about Day 4, my older son said, “Don’t you think people are…*nicer* here than they’ve been in other places we’ve been to?”

More to come....
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Old Apr 7th, 2017, 11:10 PM
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Days 1-2: ATL-LHR, arriving 7:40 AM on 3/26.

Flight went smoothly, although the plane was a little ragged. I didn’t sleep – I never do, no matter how much wine I drink – I’m just too hyped up and too determined that this time *I will sleep.* So I don’t. Of course! They slept a bit, but fitfully.

We took the Heathrow Express to Paddington. It was worth it to us: off-peak fare (Sunday morning), the boys didn’t pay – so it was just 15 pounds for a 15-minute trip into the city. Far less than a taxi. Caught a cab from Paddington to our apartment, which was in Fitzrovia. The apartment owner was very generous and was able to offer us an early check in.

Because it was so early (we were in the apartment and settled by 9 am), I broke the cardinal rule of US-Europe travel….I mean…it would have been ridiculous to keep everyone awake for 12 more hours…so we all crashed. I woke up around 1, woke them up, everyone shook of the nap, and out we went to explore London.

The first day’s explorations: Walked to the British Museum (a major destination of this trip – we ended up going four times in small bursts, rather than one massive trip), then down to Covent Garden, watched some performers, making a stop for a panini along the way in the first place we saw that wasn’t a McDonald’s or Starbucks, then to Trafalgar Square, popped inside St. Martins-in-the-Fields, then down to Whitehall/Parliament/Big Ben then finally over to Westminster CATHEDRAL (not Abbey) where we went to the evening Catholic Mass…then on the Tube (finally) and back to the apartment, and eventually to bed. Despite the nap, no one had difficulty falling asleep.

**Tube note. At this point, we just bought individual tickets for the ride. I couldn’t figure out how to do the Oyster Card for child/youth fares, and as it turned out, I did need assistance, even at a kiosk.

Day 3: (Monday)

This was Tower Day. First thing, though – figure out the Oyster Card. At the Great Portland Street Station, an employee helped us do the youth/child card. Before I arrived in London, the system made absolutely no sense to me, but after using it…it does.

Crowds: on a Monday in March, there seemed to be a healthy line for tickets for the Tower, but nothing enormous. I had purchased the family membership for the Historic Royal Palaces, so we just waved that and walked in – and walked right up to one of the Yeomen’s tours that was just that minute starting. It was great – Lawrence was our guide, and he was (as I understand they all are) excellent. There were a lot of people in the tour, but we had no trouble hearing him.

We did the tour, saw the Crown Jewels (absolutely no line – just walked right in), did the White Tower and other spaces, and had lunch at the Tower Café – the boys had fish and chips and I had potato/leek soup. It was all very good.

It was about 3:30 then, so just enough time for a first look at the British Museum.

Crowd note for this day and the rest of the week: On this, the last week of March, there were lots of schoolkids about – many groups of high schoolers, mostly French, with a few German groups and even fewer British. There were also groups of younger British schoolchildren – like 6-8 year olds.

That night, we saw An American in Paris. I just bought tickets at the box office. As it turned out…I still prefer the film version more. But at least I didn't pay Broadway prices....
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Old Apr 7th, 2017, 11:14 PM
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Day 4 (Tuesday)

Today began with the Churchill War Rooms – which was *great*. The boys really enjoyed it and learned a lot. If I were to do this again, especially if I were to do it in the summer, I’d purchase tickets ahead of time. Admission is regulated – it’s cramped, naturally – and we did have to wait a bit – maybe 30 minutes – for tickets.

After a lunch on the go, we took about an hour break up in the apartment, and then headed back to the British Museum (I told you it was a destination). Egypt was the focus today.
We then got up to the British Library, which is open until 8, by the way, so it’s a good thing to save until late in the day. Really wonderful exhibits of books and manuscripts, including music.

Fish and Chips at the place down the block from our apartment for dinner.

Day 5 – (Wednesday)

Finally got up early enough for a breakfast – they’re not into the Full English, but waffles were good enough.

This would be a wandering day, with an emphasis on Southbank. But first, a stop at the Lego Store in Leicester Square, which advertises itself as the biggest in the world…but…well, I’ll let them say that.

This brought us near the National Gallery, so we joined the French teens and took about 90 minutes there, spending time with the pieces that interested us the most, rather than trying to *do it all.*

A different sort of exhibit followed – I had seen that there was an “Art of the Brick” Lego exhibit on Superheroes in Southbank, so we crossed on a pedestrian bridge and found that. It wasn’t free, of course, but considering almost every museum we’d enjoy over the week *was* free admission, I didn’t feel irritated at paying admission to this – it was a good pop culture break.

We strolled along the Thames, got snacks, people watched and stopped in shops, then arrived at the Globe, where we were able to join a tour that would begin in about 15 minutes. Yes, it’s a reconstruction, but it was still an interesting experience. We wouldn’t be attending a performance on this trip (there weren’t good tickets by the time I got around to looking into it…and I wasn’t going to have them stand for three hours as Groundlings…), so it was good to see the theater anyway.

Then to the excellent Borough Market for some food, and then to Southwark Cathedral for a look around. Do note that although the Market is advertised as being open until 5, most of the stalls were busy packing up by 4:30. We enjoyed Indian, Ethiopian and sweet stuff.

Dinner: Cheap, good pizza. I maintained my foodie cred, such as it is, at the Borough Market that day, I believe.
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Old Apr 8th, 2017, 01:09 AM
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nice write up.
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Old Apr 8th, 2017, 05:55 AM
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Sounds like you packed a lot in without making yourselves too stressed. Well done!

Looking forward to the rest of the story...
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Old Apr 8th, 2017, 07:04 AM
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Thanks for the report. After you finish the details, tell us how your sons liked it, what they liked and disliked. As well as yourself of course.

Always interesting to hear about kids in Europe.
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Old Apr 9th, 2017, 09:11 PM
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Thanks for the feedback! To continue:

Day 6 (Thursday)

Greenwich Day. We caught the Thames River Bus from the Tower pier – very easy to do, a nice, quick ride, uncrowded (the day we went) and relaxing. It would be especially exciting for younger children. Greenwich is a *great* day trip – it’s a nice break from the big-city vibe, and it’s so easy to navigate – it’s all *right there* once you get off the boat, with a lovely park, great history, excellent museums and again, a good little market. More Indian, a little Italian….very good.

(I had originally planned our "day trip" to be Hampton Court - which is why I had purchased the membership in the Historical Palaces. But the night before, I weighed the options and for various reasons decided that Greenwich would be a more interesting and varied experience - and I believe I was probably right.)

We arrived back at the Tower pier, then caught a bus from Tower Hill to St. Paul’s. It was just after 4, and they advertised no admission after 4..but that means no *paid* admission. They were still letting people in, since Vespers would be sung at 5. They had part of the church roped off for those attending Vespers, but there was nothing stopping you from having a look around at most of the rest of the church anyway. No, you couldn’t go up in the dome, and there was no multi-media stuff to view, but yes, you could get a good, thorough look at most of the interior for free…which is what we did.

We ate dinner at Nando’s – a great chain that serves fresh, tasty, healthy chicken. The boys really liked it, and I didn’t mind. We returned to the apartment, and they chilled out with a movie, but I was a little restless, so I went out and hopped on the Tube to Harrod’s – just to see. Okay. I saw. Walked around for fifteen minutes, and that was enough. Been there, done that now!

(I'm not a shopper)

Day 7 (Friday)

This was…Harry Potter Day.

I had, of course purchased tickets for Warner Brothers/Harry Potter Studio Tour early (you must – you can’t get them at the door) – maybe sometime in January, I believe? We had a 2:30 entrance time – I didn’t want to bust our tails having to get out the door early in the morning to get there – which means we had some time in the morning to kill.

We used the time to knock of some souvenir/gift shopping: Walked down to The Strand, and saw, on the way, just the exteriors of the Royal Courts of Justice and the Temple Church (regret not going in, but we really didn’t have time), and popped into Twining’s. Took a bus back up north, stopped at the British Museum, where just focused on the gift shop – we’d have time for one more serious visit tomorrow. Then a quick lunch, back to the apartment to drop off the purchases, and then…to Watford Junction!

There are a lot of questions about the logistics of getting out there, so here goes, with our experience.

Our apartment was walking distance from the Euston Station, which is where you catch the train to Watford Junction, so that part of it was not an issue for us as it is for some. Just be careful, when you get to Euston, to *ask* which is the quicker train to Watford Junction – we almost just got on the first one we saw a notice for, but then I thought to ask, and it turned out that would have been the one that makes many stops and takes an hour, rather than the quicker, twenty minute train.

We arrived at Watford Junction, and waited for about ten minutes for the shuttle bus, which is very easy to locate – don’t stress about it. Just be sure you have your 2.50/per person cash fare for the shuttle bus. There were a few people who had not known about it, who’d assumed it was included in the Studio tour ticket , and were sent to the ATM.

I won’t rehash the tour, but I’ll just say that it was worth the time and money to us - and even to me, the cheapskate. I am not a Potterhead, although I have read most of the books, and have been involved with and aware of the Harry Potter phenomenon ever since my now 25-year old daughter grew up with them. I am, however, interested in the creative process, both writing and film, and the whole thing really interested and impressed me from that perspective. I’ve been to the Harry Potter stuff at Universal Studios in Orlando, as well, and I preferred the London experience. It was just more interesting. It was more than just entertainment - you really could learn a great deal from the experience.

We spent about 3 hours there – we left about 5:30 – but I could see how someone could easily spend at least an hour more, maybe two – so make your plans based on your level of interest.

The ride back to London wasn’t as comfortable as the ride out – it was so crowded on both the bus and the train, we had to stand the entire way on both legs…so we were ready to rest when we got back!
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Old Apr 10th, 2017, 07:43 AM
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I admire your travel style. It is pretty much how we travel as a family: apartment rental over hotel rooms; and few absolute "must do's," leaving plenty of room for flexibility.
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Old Apr 10th, 2017, 09:03 AM
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I'm taking my grandson (almost 14) to London in June . . . your report is very valuable. Thanks for posting.

Sandy (in Denton)
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Old Apr 11th, 2017, 01:03 PM
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Very informative. I am taking my two adult children in August. We are totally stressing about planning the itin and how many cities or countries we can manage. Have just about decided that it will be England only, with a few days in London, and then on to Bath.

Question: the "apartment" to which you referred: would you be willing to share the details? I have been scouring airbnb but haven't really started nailing down accommodations yet.

Thank you!
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Old Apr 12th, 2017, 11:28 PM
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Great report - liked the relaxed way you travel.
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Old Apr 13th, 2017, 04:33 PM
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I am really enjoying your report. Thanks for sharing!
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Old Apr 19th, 2017, 05:53 PM
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More please -- loving your posts.
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