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Guide To 5 Days in London With a 4 1/2 Year Old

October 16, 2011 5 comments

Top 3 Tips of the Week:

  1. (#1 for a very good reason) Don’t forget to give small children some time to run and climb and direct their own play. The playgrounds in the Royal Parks are brilliant and generally close to other things you want to see anyway, so take at least one play break per day. Playtime = Happy Kid = Happy Family.
  2. Get the SCVNGR app from Marketplace or iTunes. It has challenges all over London that unlock points for coupons to fun stuff you might want to to. If your are even a little bit competitive you’ll love it. You can even create new challenges for others to do.
  3. All of the national museums are free! So there is 0% guilt if you have to leave because of a child-related catastrophe–you guys know the ones I’m talking about…


Day One–Play Day!
   

Morning: Princess Diana Memorial Playground
Lancaster Gate, Central Line or Knightsbridge, Picadilly Line)
This playground is a little boy’s dream come true: a little piece of Never Never Land in real life. I think Diana would have been pleased. The beached pirate ship was definitely the highlight for Liam. He loved climbing onto the bowsprit and yelling “Fire the cannons matey!” (He spent the whole time we were there bossing me around and calling me “matey”)

Lunch: The Jack Horner
 Tottenham Court Road, Central and Northern Lines
Appropriately enough, on the corner, and specializing in pies. We had a proper pub meal of Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers and Mash, and Fish and Chips. Then we finished off with a proper pudding: fudge cake with custard. The pie was a bit greasey but everything was delish!

Afternoon: Harrods Toy Kingdom
 Kightsbridge, Picadilly Line
Great for kids and parents! Parents can swap duty supervising the kids while the other shops. Toy Kingdom at Harrods 4th floor will keep them occupied for hours. Be sure to check out the food halls. I didn’t really get to to that because  I was on a mission to get Aveda products (ground floor) and find a bra (2nd floor). I hate bra shopping more than jeans shopping. This is also a great way to kill an hour or two if it’s raining.


Day Two: Trapped in Leytonstone!
  

Morning and Lunch: Adventures in Leytonstone
 Leytonstone, Central Line
The Central Line was halted for a couple of hours when someone fell ill on a train. We were forced off the train in Leytonstone. Liam immediately climbed the cool bus statue-thing outside the station. If you ever find yourself trapped in Leytonstone, I can recommend a passable playground near the station, Engine Shed Model Railways, and The Walnut Tree has a great superfood salad with grilled chicken. When the trains were running again, we decided on the fly to call it good at Bethnell Green.

Afternoon: Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood
 Bethnell Green
, Central Line
As fun for the parents as it is for the kids. If you were born in 1908 or later, something in here will make you say, “OMG! I had one of those!” Sit-n-Spin, Viewmaster, Etch-a-Sketch, Rubik’s Cube, Star Wars… it’s all there! Oddly enough, the toy that really captured Liam’s imagination was the zoetrope. They had a station there were you could illustrate your own strip of paper to spin inside the drum. Unfortunately, they were out of paper so we didn’t get to do it. 😦
Awesome Idea Alert: If your kid does get to make a strip, take a video of it spinning in the drum for him to watch again later. See? Awesome.


Day Three: Getting Our Collective Geek On
   

Morning and Lunch: Science Museum
 South Kensington
, Circle, District, and Picadilly Lines
This place was awesome! Very futuristic–actually, not so futuristic in the steam engine section… but now that i think on it, the atmosphere matched the science of each section. As the history of science progresses through the museum, the look becomes more and more futuristic. Liam loved it. It was very hands-on with lots of interactive and self-directed touch screens. Liam loves touch screens even if he can’t read all of the text. We had lunch in the Deep Blue Cafe. It felt like we were on board the Enterprise. Except that we were eating the best cheeseburgers I’d tasted in a long while with thick steak-cut fries. Ommagosh! So good!

This is where we made the biggest mistake of the week. Notice there isn’t a playground mentioned in Day Three? 😮

Afternoon: Natural History Museum
 South Kensington, Circle, District, and Picadilly Lines

This. Place. Is. Huge. And cavernous. Did I mention huge? And mostly boring for a 4 1/2 year old since you can’t really touch anything. Except for the Dinosaurs exhibit. We entered the museum at the absolute farthest point possible from Dinosaurs. Liam had a royal tantrum and was escorted outside by Stace while I snapped a few pics of the very Hogwarts-like Central Hall and bought some gifts in the gift shop. The boys did eventually make it to Dinosaurs for a few minutes and I caught up with them, but Liam had had enough and we had to head back to South Woodford and call it a day. At least it was free.


Day Four: It’s Only Rock-n-Roll, My Dear Watson
  
 

Morning:  4D Experience, Thames River Cruise, and The London Eye
 Waterloo,
Jubilee, Waterloo & City, Bakerloo, and Northern Lines
This is the only attraction we actually paid for. It was about £70 for 2 adults and  one child. We’d considered doing the Eye and the Sea Aquarium, but that would have cost £100. Yikes!
4D Experience: Very cool 3D IMAX-like production. The 4D kicks in with a fog machine that makes you feel like you are up in the clouds, bubbles, and “snow”. Only lasts about 5 minutes. It got a bit too loud, but Liam loved it.
Thames River Cruise: Liam was definitely underwhelmed on this one. It’s a narrated cruise of the sights between the London Eye and Tower Bridge. After the first two minutes Liam asked, “When is she going to stop talking?” we handed him a cell phone so he could play Cut the Rope while we relaxed and enjoyed the cruise.
The London Eye: 30 minute ride on the super-high wheel. You get a great view of London this way. Liam had a blast. This was my second time doing it and both times the novelty wore off after about 20 minutes. It’s still completely worth doing though.

Lunch: Pizza Express (South Bank)
 WaterlooJubilee, Waterloo & City, Bakerloo, and Northern Lines
Best kid’s menu I’ve seen in London. Their “4 Course Kid’s Meal” included a “salad” of sliced cucumber, red peppers, and cherry tomatoes; a pizza or pasta of choice; dessert of choice; and a “Bambinochino”. The pizzas were really good and the rosemary garlic pizza bread will make your eyes roll back into your head.

Afternoon of Pop Culture:
 Baker Street,
Baker Street Station…
is paved with tiles of Sherlock Holmes’ silhouette. It’s a fun surprise when you pop out of the tunnels.
It’s Only Rock-n-Roll… great rock memorabilia store with 2 floors crammed with t-shirts, gold/platinum records, and other fun stuff. I got a “Queen–Greatest Hits” t-shirt because that was the first record album (yep, vinyl) I ever bought. I also got a Woodstock t-shirt because, well… why not? It was cool. Even Liam was entranced by all the stuff.
Sherlock Holmes Museum… is actually at 221B Baker Street. We really only visited the gift shop. We are both big Sherlock fans. We really like the new modern geeky ones. However, we didn’t think Liam would hang on for it and, frankly, we weren’t sure we wanted to pay to see a tidy Victorian room. Though, if it were really Holmes’ room I doubt it would be tidy. There were odd little trinkets to buy there, but I only got a postcard for my mom who loves a good mystery. Now if only I could find the train to St. Mary Mead…
Regents Park Playground… yet another wonderful playground in the Royal Parks system. Liam actually befriended a pair of brothers here and quickly started playing a variant of tag suggested by the older one. They ran, climbed, and laughed together. Their grandmother and I had to pry the boys apart to take them home. Liam was badly needing some rough and tumble play. Thanks Alex and Joe!


Day Five: Shopping and Shows
 

Morning and Lunch: Stratford City Westfield
 StatfordCentral and Nothern Lines
After a quick trip to the neighborhood playground we headed into Stratford City Westfield. It’s the biggest mall in Europe, ready to welcome the jingling coin purses of Olympics fans in 2012. We got there on iPhone 4 release day, so we got to look down on the poor schmucks standing in a seemingly endless line. We had a great meal at Nando’s, a very hip Portuguese restaurant with beautiful art, amazing lighting, and fantastic music. After lunch, Stace picked up a copy of NHL 12 for XBoxwhile we were there. (Gotta give the husband some self-directed play time too.)

We had Liam take a nap after lunch because we knew it would be a late night and The Lion King is the most expensive thing we planned for the whole week. We really didn’t want to screw this up.

Dinner and a Show: The Lion King
 Covent Garden, Picadilly Line or  Temple, Circle and District Lines
The Cafe Fratelli doesn’t look like much from the street, but the food was wonderful. They serve fresh panini, soups and salads that are wonderful and won’t set you back much. The service was quick and left us plenty of time for souvenir shopping before the show.
The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre 
OK, I’m not even a theater geek, but the opening scene brought tears.  I’ve been wanting to see this show for a very long time. I love the use of life-size puppetry in theater. I was mesmerized by the animals and so was Liam. This was only his second theater production and he hasn’t seen the movie, so I did a lot of whispering in his ear to help him understand passage of time, who’s who, and “where are we? sorts of things. He asked a lot of loud questions like, “Is he dead?” and “Why are they fighting?” He really loved it and talked about it on the way home. His synopsis: “The good king died, then there was a bad king and he died, now there is a good king.” We got him a stuffed Simba which is now the toy-of-the-moment. There really isn’t a bad seat in the house. It’s a farily intimate venue the size of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland Oregon

Traveling While Traveling

August 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Hey dere, ho dere. My lovely wife has added me to her blog as a “contributor,” which is a title I’ve never really had before in our marriage so I’m pretty excited. It’s like a promotion. I’ve gone from slacker to contributor! Mazel tov!
(Admin: You’ve been upgraded to Editor, dear.)

I was told in clear language that being a foreigner in Israel during Yom Kippur can get pretty boring, so I just scheduled our first vacation while in Israel. And we’re not even there yet. But it had to be done.

Tracy and I aren’t terribly experienced with European travel. We’ve been to the UK (not that UK), and when I was a teenager I spent some time in Spain, but that’s about it. So choosing a destination was the first step, and it started out pretty tough. I sought advice from the Interwebs, and from some folks at work who were particularly well traveled. One coworker, Bob Cooksey, was happy to tell me lots of stuff about every major European city and it all sounded pretty cool.

Then he brought out the trump card: Euro Disney in the suburbs of Paris. Since we will have the little guy with us, and he won’t even be five years old at the time of departure, I was afraid that all of the museums and parks and ancient ruins we might stumble upon would just be giant snoozefests to him. Euro Disney was a chance for him to latch onto something and look forward to it. Additionally, he has already connected with the idea of the Eiffel Tower and the fact that it is a Parisian landmark (although he believes it to be eminently climbable).

And so, Paris it is. Honestly if Liam weren’t with us for the trip, we probably would be going to Dublin or Vienna or Geneva or Budapest or Istanbul or Amsterdam (especially Amsterdam) or just about anyplace else. Not to say that Paris isn’t a fine city, but it just seemed so… cliché, pardon the vernacular. But for Liam’s sake, I will soak up the dusk light show on Le Tour Eiffel and sip espresso (decaf plz) at a sidewalk pastisserie, and wander the Champ de Mars. All for the kid, of course. Sometimes you have to make giant sacrifices as a parent.

The next thing in my head after deciding on Paris was, “how can we get back to London?” since that is a place we both fell in love with and Paris is just one chunder away from London anyways. I mean chunnel. The Eurostar chunnel train was another coup de grâce (pardon the vernacular) as far as Liam was concerned, because train. Oh and also because tunnel. Both being things that he likes to yell at the top of his lungs whenever he sights one from our car. I have to assume that if he is riding on a train, in a tunnel, for some number of hours, that he will tire of yelling it at the top of his lungs. It’s either that, or the locals will put us off the train in the middle of the tunnel to walk the rest of the way.

Finding things to do (for young and old) in London will be an absolute non-issue. At the very worst, we can communicate with the locals to the point of asking “where is the nearest McDonalds?” but we plan on being more interesting than that. I think Liam would love the London Eye, even though Tracy and I have already been on it. And I think he would dig watching the changing of the guard and such things. And for Tracy and me, just being there was just about enough. One of my fondest memories of our last trip to the UK was wandering over to a local laundromat and listening to the hilarious proprietor cracking wise at his patrons’ expense while our clothing got dry enough for us to pack for our trip to Brighton. And going to Sainsbury’s to buy our own ingredients to make treacle sponge pudding.

The timing of our arrival in London is unfortunate in one sense: no EPL games taking place in London during the time we plan on being there. Until the day we’re scheduled to leave, at which time Everton, the team I started following back in 2003, plays Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It wouldn’t be completely out of the question to attend the match, except that getting tickets to a Chelsea match of any kind is almost prohibitive. The UK equivalent of StubHub is quoting 190 GBP per ticket for the away section. So for three tickets that would be approaching a thousand dollars. Not including the medical bills that would arise from being a yank wearing the wrong kit in Chelsea. So I’ll save that money for an online soccer broadcast package if I need to watch Everton play so desperately, thanks.