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Nine days on the ground in London: A trip report

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Aug 10th, 2011, 08:06 PM
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Nine days on the ground in London: A trip report

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/Restauran...n_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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Aug 11th, 2011, 04:14 AM
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KSBeem, you certainly had a full day for starters! Thank you - will continue to follow...
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Aug 11th, 2011, 04:40 AM
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ksbeem, another traveler already looking forward to a great trip report thread.


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.

Oh, dear! Glad to read it turned out okay in the end. Was there a reason she didn't have all her meds in carry on? Or will they be in carry on from now on, eh?
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Aug 11th, 2011, 04:45 AM
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She takes a lot of medications. She travels a lot, so I guess this is what works for her. Some might be liquids, too. I don't really know why she packed them that way.
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Aug 11th, 2011, 04:55 AM
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Loving the report so far - cant wait for more!
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Aug 11th, 2011, 05:06 AM
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A good trip report! Looking forward to read more ..
My family and I will be in London next week. I tried to print (claim) coupon (2 for 1) from Day Out Guide but failed. I was asked to fill the form but there is no choice to pick the city in Canada where I live. What did I do wrong?
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Aug 11th, 2011, 05:10 AM
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Ooopsss sorry .. my fault not to read carefully. I found the option to pick "other". Thanks!
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Aug 11th, 2011, 05:16 AM
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Thanks for the answer, ksbeem, and apologies if my question sounds critical. I was very surprised to read of necessary meds in a checked bag.

Looking forward to many more posts of your report.
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Aug 11th, 2011, 05:18 AM
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Brillian work, ksbeem! And that refers to the planning, attitude, flexibility, and your reporting. Looking forward to the rest.
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Aug 11th, 2011, 12:37 PM
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Montyesther, make sure you print as many as you need and for whatever you think you might be doing. I printed some we didn't end up needing but better safe that sorry.

We used them on the Chelsea stadium tour, the Tower of London and Hampton Court. Saved quite a bit of money.
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Aug 11th, 2011, 05:59 PM
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Ksbeem,

Looking forward to the rest. We spent 10 days last year and also loved it!
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Aug 12th, 2011, 05:21 AM
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ksbeem - thanks! looking forward to the rest.
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Aug 12th, 2011, 05:45 AM
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Great beginning! Can't wait to read more! London is about my most favorite European city. I loved the Museum of London as much as you did.

Thanks for sharing!
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Aug 12th, 2011, 05:45 AM
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Great beginning! Can't wait to read more! London is about my most favorite European city. I loved the Museum of London as much as you did.

Thanks for sharing!
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Aug 12th, 2011, 03:25 PM
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Our departure date is rapidly arriving, also 10 days to see London for the first time. Doubt we will be as active as you on the first jet-lagged day!

Looking forward to more.
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Aug 13th, 2011, 04:10 AM
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Churchill Arms is a great boozer - glad to see you found it!
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Aug 15th, 2011, 09:11 PM
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Tuesday: We slept in a little later than we intended to on Tuesday, which meant we got a later start than my itinerary dictated. Turns out my mother-in-law needs a full two hours to get ready in the mornings. That was one of many truths we learned about each other on our trip. My husband, kids and I are accustomed to a quick turnaround in the mornings, but we quickly learned to be flexible. I used my yoga breathing to calm myself down and remind myself that even if we deviated from schedule, we’d see thing we’d never seen before!

So the plan Tuesday was to tour Stamford Bridge (http://www.chelseafc.com), the famous stadium where the Chelsea Football Club plays, in the morning. Then my husband would go to his conference in the afternoon, and we’d meander toward Kensington Gardens and the palace. The Chelsea tour was a last-minute add-on to our trip itinerary but one the kids were looking forward to. They all three play soccer and particularly love Chelsea. In fact, our somewhat-jaded DS15 wore his Didier Drogba jersey that day and spent more than an hour inside the team museum after our tour.

Armed with our 2-for-1 coupons, we struck out for Chelsea that morning. It was our second day on the Tube, and we quickly learned that some lines split off and that you need to pay attention to the terminus when you hop on a train. Luckily, we only went one stop before we realized we needed a different District line train. So we waited at the High Street Kensington station for the next train bound for Chelsea. There a very nice gentleman explained the Tube system a little more to us and gave us his advice on sites to see in and around London.

This was one of the highlights of the trip for me – meeting people. The level of civility we encountered in London was so refreshing from other places we’ve visited. Never when we asked for assistance did we encounter rudeness or impatience. That was especially nice considering my mother-in-law’s hearing loss.

We finally made it to Chelsea. The stadium is very near the Fulham Broadway Tube station, and outside the stadium on the surrounding walls are larger-than-life photos of Chelsea players. The kids were in heaven.

The tour was interesting, even for a fair-weather soccer fan like myself. We visited the press room and the home locker room. The kids got their photos taken in front of Drogba’s locker before the group headed for the pitch. We couldn’t go on the field, but the nice tour guide explained a little of Chelsea’s history as we sat and stood near the seats where the players spend the games.

After the tour ended, we visited the museum. It has excellent exhibits on the Chelsea club, which has a rich history. The young woman greeting folks in the museum asked where we hailed from. We said the US, and she asked where. Thinking no one knows about the middle of the country, we nevertheless told her, “Kansas City.” Turns out she had worked for our hometown professional soccer team , formerly called the Wizards (and now named Sporting Kansas City.) The kids thought that was pretty cool!

On our way to the team store, the hubs split to go back to the flat and then on to his conference. I entirely underestimated the amount of time my kiddos and their grandmother, a shopper extraordinaire, would spend in this store. It was after noon, we were hungry, but she kept going, like the Energizer bunny. I had to do some more yoga breathing, but what really calmed my nerves were the prices on merchandise! I don’t know if it’s because we were hitting the July sales or the down economy, but prices on items were very reasonable. The same jersey my son was wearing, which he had received for a birthday present, was about 20 percent less expensive there, even when I converted the price to USD. We found this to be true in many other venues. So that was nice.

After everyone had found their perfect Chelsea souvenir, we headed back to the Tube and took it back to Notting Hill Gate. We got off and began walking east to Kensington Gardens.

Right here, I will recommend a really awesome book of maps, the Knopf MapGuide: London (http://www.amazon.com/Knopf-MapGuide...ref=pd_sim_b_7) The book divides London into zones, with a fold-out map for each zone. They’re not large, so you can walk down the street with this really detailed map that you can read without looking completely touristy.

Anyway, we were using this map, so we cut up Kensington Palace Gardens and found ourselves on a street of embassies. So neat, strolling along in the beautiful weather and gazing at the lovely homes, some officials residences of ambassadors to the U.K. Apparently, this street is often referred to as “Billionaires Row.” Who knew? Well, lots of people, but we didn’t. Wasn’t on our list of things to see, but it’s cool that we saw it. Love those kinds of surprises.

It was kind of sprinkling when we walked into the gardens. The palace (http://www.hrp.org.uk/kensingtonPalace/) is being renovated right now. There’s an exhibit on called Enchanted Palace, and the state apartments are still on display. However, despite our 2-for-1 tickets, we opted now to spend the time visiting, since we couldn’t see everything. We decided it was just another reason to come back for a visit after the palace’s renovation is unveiled in 2012.

However, the Orangerie was open for afternoon tea. What an enchanting venue! We had a traditional English tea, complete with finger sandwiches. It was a nice respite and so wonderful to think that the space was once a greenhouse used by Queen Mary II. And later in the week, when we visited Hampton Court Palace, the kids could make the connection between the Orangerie at Kensington and the Orangerie and exotic gardens at Hampton Court Palace.

Again, the civility and friendliness of the Brits was so great. Our DS8 was chasing pigeons as we walked along the gravel path from the gardens to the palace. He chased them right on to the lawn, just in front of a sign that clearly declared visitors must stay off the grass. A gardener walked toward DS8, and I figured he’d get his clock cleaned. Instead, the gentleman gently steered our son toward the gravel, then winkingly chastised him for wearing a Chelsea jersey. Tottenham’s better, he said sternly.

We walked a bit in the gardens, then the rain came. So we walked down the path toward Kensington High Street. From there, it was a relatively short walk to Kensington Church Street, which took us past shops and restaurants to our street and our flat.

We rested a bit, found the hubs, changed clothes and struck out for the New London Theatre and War Horse. The show starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays. We had a little family fracas when I found the DD15 reading in his room instead of changing his clothes, but we made it onto the train at a reasonable time. Took the Tube to Holborn on the Central line.

And here’s where everything fell apart. It was a busy time in a busy place, and as we walked west on High Holborn, we missed the split where High Holborn goes southwest and New Oxford Street begins. Pretty soon we were hopelessly lost, and my book of maps was no help. I started to panic. No one else in our party had a clue where to go.

Finally, and I have no flipping idea where we were at this point, we stopped a nice-looking businessman and asked for help. We told him where we were going, and he looked at our map, and then he channeled a Hugh Grant character. There was a lot of sputtering and, “You see, it would be better if this street went straight though, wouldn’t it, but it doesn’t.” Finally, we thanked him and moved on. I was practically in tears, but my husband insisted we flag a couple taxis. Impossible at 6:40 p.m.! But we did it. In a few minutes, we were delivered to the New London Theatre, just minutes before the curtain went up.

We had tickets at the will call window, so everything was OK.

The show was spectacular. (http://warhorselondon.nationaltheatre.org.uk/) I cannot recommend it enough. All three kids loved it, as did the grandparents. World War I changed warfare forever, and the farther we get from it, people tend to forget it. Yet that war of a century ago is still so real for Europeans. As Americans, it’s something we read about, but to be so close was overwhelming. And it really was a great precursor for our Wednesday trip to the Salisbury plain.

The show was more than two hours, so we were starved after. We headed to Rock and Sole Plaice (http://www.yelp.co.uk/biz/rock-and-sole-plaice-london ) , which a Fodorite had recommended. The joint was pretty empty, which was lucky for our party of seven – it’s not a big spot. My father-in-law, an easygoing sort, had one request – fish and chips. This was the place. The food was awesome! The tartar sauce – awesome. Everyone tried a different type of fish, which was fun.

Of course, we were very close to the Covent Garden Tube station on the Piccadilly line, which we took back to Holborn and then on to Notting Hill Gate. The downside of that station is the stairs, but the elevator was working, so everything was golden.

We made it home and poured ourselves into bed, ready for Wednesday and our trip to Salisbury and Stonehenge…
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Aug 15th, 2011, 09:20 PM
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rncheryl, I'm trying to type as fast as I can! It's back-to-school time, so I'm crazy busy. But if you've got specific questions, e-mail me at [email protected].
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Aug 16th, 2011, 03:39 AM
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Ksbeem, thanks for continuing - take your time.
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Aug 16th, 2011, 05:12 AM
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Understand the hectic time, just don't leave us hanging. I am really enjoying your tale. Thanks!
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