London – Sky Garden

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So we’ve spent the last few weekends in London so I have a few more posts to write.  In particular order, I will just cover a little of what we have done as we’ve had some enjoyable experiences.

Yesterday, we went to 20 Fenchurch Street, the official name of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building.

We’ve admired this building all year and I think I can say its my favorite modern building in the city.  Growing in popularity is the 3 story Sky garden at the top of the building – floor 35.   I have tried to get tickets in the past but they go quickly.  This time, luck was on my side.  With friends visiting from America, I checked in at Sky Garden website (here) 3 weeks prior to their trip to see tickets available.   The website has a 3 week leadtime for booking so sometimes can be tricky to plan.   I managed to snag the tickets we needed so I was thrilled.  It has been on my London ‘must do’ list for some time.

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View up 20 Fenchurch Street

It’s easy to find and easy to access.  Security was swift and efficient and in no time, we were on the 35th floor looking out over London.  Note – the views are great!  And when you compare to the London Eye (£25) and the Shard (££), considering this is FREE, its probably all you need.  In fact, I would even argue it was better than the Eye.

I loved the view of the Tower of London….a favorite place of mine and new vantage point.

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Tower of London

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St Pauls, BT Tower, City of London

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West London

The gardens are mostly green but lush and nice to wander around.

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View from Garden overlooking main cafe/ vista

 

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The Tower boasts a couple of cafes and a restaurant.  We sat in the window with afternoon tea jut taking in the view.  It was perfect.  And because they limit the numbers up there, its not crowded and has a lovely spacious feel.

If you’ve not done it already, plan ahead and visit the Walkie Talkie!

Take That!

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Horribly behind on posting but this is a quick one I wanted to share!

This last weekend, we went to see Take That at Hyde Park, London.  It was part of the British Summertime Festival presented by Barclaycard.

It was the kids first real concert and TT didn’t disappoint!  Wow!

We snagged a fairly decent spot early on and didn’t move all day.  The festival offered 2 other stages and some activities and lots of food stands.  But TT fans are die hard..they are there to see TT and really no-one else.  Strategically, we managed our space all day (alternating folks on food and toilet breaks) and the wait was worth it!

I’ve been to a good number of TT concerts and this is the first time LuLu was present for Relight my Fire – needless to say, crowd pleaser.  Also fun to have Sigma on stage for their current single Cry.

Supporting bands included Ella Eyre and Olly Murs who was surprisingly good.

Not sure where we will be living next year but hope to catch the boys on their 25th anniversary tour.

 

London – Changing of the Guard, Camden and Bike Tour

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Biking in London

As I had mentioned, we did a couple of more unusual things with our US visitor on this trip to London.

On this final full day in the city, we opted to be a little different and avoid a day of the big sights.   However, we did start with the biggest obvious sight, Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard.   This was mainly because our visitor really wanted to see the palace and yesterday, we couldn’t see it form the bus tour because of the rain.  We also opted not to get of the bus as we woudl have gotten soaked!

So we headed to the palace for the changing of the guard.  As a side note, we could have joined a walking tour with the Original Bus Tour company (see prior post here), that supposedly gets you closer to the event.  As I mentioned in the prior post, we just didn’t have all that extra time to dedicate to this so opted not to use that tour included in the ticket.  Something though that others might want to bear in mind as watching the Changing of the guard is easier said than done!

There are a number of vantage points for the event but not one allows for a views of the whole thing.  We moved to 3 different locations to see snippets of the parade and marching of the soldiers.  They approach Buckingham Palace down the Mall…marching into the Palace courtyard.  Ceremonies and more music takes place here but without a spot by the railings of the Palace, its near impossible to see.   They then march out again on the right side of the palace.  Of which we saw but again limited.    We saw some to get a flaver of what what happening but be warned its difficult to see much without dedicating time to getting there very early and waiting….ad still with a limited view!

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Our next stop was Camden Lock/ Market.   This is definitely off track here and I would say much less touristy in the true sense of the word.  My teen had visited prior and was in charge o getting us around as I had not been before.   She did great as its not easy to navigate and the crowds were crazy (we visited on a Saturday).   We arrived by Tube.   We had really wanted to arrive by Water Bus but time didn’t permit this we know we needed to be back into Waterloo by 2:30pm.   Check out the Water taxi and if you have time, take it down the canal into Camden Lock.   My teen has done this is in the past and its highly recommended!

Arriving by tube was fine and we ambled down to the market place taking in the unusual shop fronts/ art along the way.

The market is made up of a number of sections and for the most part, mostly arts, crafts and similar for sale.  fresh produce (typical market fare) died out years ago, and Camden definitely caters to a more alternative crowd.

We headed towards the food market which was not only huge but offers food from all over the world.  We spent 25 minutes touring all the stands deciding what we wanted.  Many tasters are on offer too to entice you to their offering.   Between the 3 of us we had Indian, Turkish and Mexican food….something for everyone.  If you are into food, this place is a must!

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After more strolling, we ventured into Cyberdog.   A store (vs. a market stall) that caters the the alternative crowd and has a leaning towards neon and PVC clothing.  Not to be scared by this though as its fun inside.  Club dancers greet you in the main entrance and music booms throughout.   Teens (and myself) enjoyed the energy it gave.

Other stops in the market included a chap that makes wire jewelry with your name Incorporated.  Again, the teens loved this and had a ring and bracelet made on the spot.

We really only had a couple of hours at Camden.  It is best suited to a day to really explore thoroughly but we got a good feel for it in the visit.

Next, we had another experience booked – a bike tour of London.   We had found a Bike tour online and thought this would be fun and different.  We booked the Secret Tour of London.  Having crossed off many big beats, we thought this would be fun to do and something new to see.   You meet at Waterloo station.  Guides were prompt and easy to locate.  They take you into what’s known as the ‘Banksy’ tunnel/ underpass to pick up the bike.  This itself was great – before the tour had even started!  This is a tunnel under Waterloo where street artists display their work.    The walls are covered with graffiti art and its very cool to see.

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Banksy Tunnel

The bike tour is 9 miles in distance and takes about 3 hours.   A word of caution is that while this is mostly on back roads, you do go onto/ cross over some very busy roads.  You need some street sense for the tour and I wouldn’t really recommend it for kids under the age of 14.  We did this on a Saturday so rods in the City were much quieter than they would be on a weekday (especially a Friday).  I would recommend weekend bookings vs weekday.  I always remained at the back of the tour to keep an eye on my teens and shout some road awareness to them when i felt it was needed!

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Picking up the bikes!

With that said, the tour was great!  We visited a number of spots around London – brick Lane, Bank of England, Tower Bridge, Spitalfields, Canal paths and more.  The tour guide was knowledgeable and you break often to hear stories/ history.  There is also a break built in at Brick Lane and probably the most memorable part is cycling over Tower Bridge.  Not for the faint of heart but a memorable experience.

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Splendid views of London after we crossed over Tower Bridge….

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Tower Bridge

 

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Modern London 

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The Tower of London

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Tower Bridge

The ride was 3 hours so we ended in time for another quick tourist stop at Harrods and then onto some dinner in the Kensington area.  A great day but long day…we then headed back to base for the night.

London – Bus Tour, Wicked

A second day to our London trip with teens involved slowing down a little.  Partly because of the weather – pouring rain and partly due to tiredness 🙂

This day we got on the road a little later and as we knew the weather was going to be rough, we opted to try out a Bus tour of London.  You see them everywhere and there are may options to choose from.  We thought this would be a good idea as it would allow our visitor to see many famous landmarks without needing to put in the leg work.  It would also keep us dry…

We opted for the Original Bus tour.  No specific reason…all are pretty similar i think.  We hopped on at Piccadilly Circus and were lucky enough to get upstairs covered seats.  Double Decker excitement!    We toured all the usual sights BUT the weather was so torrential at times, we really couldn’t see a thing….I began to take some photos as I thought ‘guess the landmark’ later could be fun……any guesses?

When the heavy rain stopped and windows cleared, we did get a semi decent view at times..

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View from Bus tour, heading down Fleet Street

Howver, due o the weather, i didnt take many photos and opted to listen to the commentary.   We took 2 differnt buses…and i woudl say tour guide on the 2nd bus was much better than the first..so pot luck really when you book and take the tour.

We opted to have a break partway through…the rain had stopped and we were cold so we alighted at Covent Garden and rain to Pain Quotidien for ht chocoalte and a snack.  THis isi my go to stop aroudn Covent Garden.   You can trust the quality of the food and drinks and dont feel like you are being ripped off here.

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Making her own hot chocolate

After warming up, we headed back to the bus for the final part of the loop we were on.

For me, the jury is out on the bus tours.  Our visitor really enjoyed it  The slower pace and seeing some more sights.   I don’t think they are great value for money unless you use them more than once.  Unfortunately, we didn’t.  We just didn’t have time for the slower pace when time is limited in the city…

Onto a couple of quick stops for gifts – M&M store in Leicester Square and Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly (both worlds apart!).  M&M I can’t stand – don’t ever go at a peak time of day but the kids do love it. Fortnum and Mason I could spend all day in there!

We then headed to our treat of the day – Wicked the musical.   Again, knowing the weather was bad this day, an indoor treat of a ‘West End’ show was in order.

None of us had seen the musical nor did we know any of the storyline so it was thoroughly enjoyable.  The twists and turns of the story and how they relate back to the original tale of the Wizard of Oz was fun and had us talking about it all the way home!

 

 

London -Tower, London Eye and Southbank

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We have had a visitor from the USA for 12 days so we spent a few days in London.  There is so much to see and do in London that we did a mix of classic tourist things but also some more off the beaten track/ more unusual attractions.   As the time spent in London was with 2 teens, I geared the days to their age group.

For day one, we opted for classic London.  It was also the best weather forecast for the next 3 days so working with that, we went for mostly outdoors attractions.

So as soon as we departed Heathrow airport, we ventured into the city.   First stop, the Tower of London.

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Tower of London

I LOVE the Tower.  Perhaps its because I have vivid memories of visiting with my mother as a child.  Even as a child, the history of the Tower was fascinating and still today, I could listen to the stories all day.

As we traveled into London by train, I had picked up a leaflet of 2 for 1 offers at the station (only valid with a rail ticket).  I highly recommend this as it has 2 for 1 offers for a lot of major London attractions.  With this, I was able to get one free entry to the Tower!

We started with a Yeoman tour.  I recommend this as it give a great overview of the Tower and also more of the history.  There may be an audio tour too but i don’t recall seeing this…perhaps worth checking out if you visit.  Anyway, the Yeoman tour was perfect.   Right length and level of content and also filled with humour.  Yeomans – What a job and also the option of living in the grounds of the Tower…not sure I would be brave enough, with all that grisly history, but they do!

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Yeoman tour

 

We exhausted all that there was to do at the Tower, grounds, Ravens, Chapel, Torture chambers, Crown Jewels and of course afternoon Tea!   The sun was out  and as much of the beauty of this iconic London Landmark is outdoors, it was great to spend the time outside.   Also – make sure you visit the actual beheading site of days past.  Just across the road in some gardens.  History all around!

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Gardens and memorials across from the Tower

On leaving the Tower, we wandered down towards St Katherines Docks.  Lovely and peaceful and not many folks exploring this area.  My brother has docked here in the past and they thoroughly enjoyed the thrill of staying in the heart of London.  I can imagine that in peak summer, it would be buzzing.  After a brief walk back along the River Thames and enjoying the view of Tower Bridge, we were ready for our next adventure!

We hopped on a tube and headed down to the London Eye.  Alighting at Westminster, as soon as you leave the station exit, you have an amazing view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.  Another iconic landmark to show to our visitor.   I absolutely love this area of London too.  The architecture is amazing and again, steeped in history.    So we headed over the bridge to the London Eye.   A must for the teens so I was happy to go along for the ride despite having done it before.

Again, we had a 2 for 1 voucher with the train ticket but we also have been collecting the Kelloggs coupons on cereal boxes – adults go free.   Yes – this also applies to the London Eye!  So i used the free adult voucher from Kelloggs and saved a swift £25!   So the Eye is the Eye.  Its fun and almost obligatory for any visitor to London now.  The teens enjoyed it and it was another attraction for our visitor to cross of her list.    My teen had done the 4D experience (indoors) prior and said it wasn’t really worth it, so we opted to skip this.

Views from the London Eye…

So most of the day was done but were looking for somewhere to eat.  We headed along towards Southbank area.  I am not familiar with this area of London at all and became pleasantly surprised with what we found.   As the weather had been nice, there were tons of riverside bars and eateries offering al fresco dining and drinks and the atmosphere was great for a midweek Spring night.  We opted for Wagamamas as it it lively and fun for the younger crowd.   Noodles had by all!

The walk back to Embankment tube (on the opposite side of the river) was lovely.  We got to cross one of the Golden Jubilee bridges and as it was all lit up for the night, it made for a pretty walk after a long day.

We covered all of the above in about 9 hours so a long day and our traveler was tired so we headed back to base for the night!

Monopoly Tour – London

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Monopoly!

We’ve had a really busy Easter/ end of term break and not stopped moving and experiencing new things/ places!

We just got back from a couple of days in the Southeast and I opted to take the kids into London for the day.  Now, there are lots of things to do in London and plowing through the list we just couldn’t decide so after hearing about a Monopoly tour of London I suggested it to the kids.  After a quick bit of research online, I could see it was to be a full day and a lot of walking….they were warned but this is what they really wanted to do!

So 36,000 steps, 15.5 miles and 9 hours later, we completed the tour.   Yes, we were exhausted but so pleased with ourselves.

I found a route online and mapped onto a good old fashioned paper map.  I thought this would be a little more inclusive of the kids and be less dependent on Siri where to turn at every step.  I also didn’t trust the battery life on my phone 😛

Map in hand and off we went.  Starting at Old Kent Road and making our way round…finishing at Bow Street/ Covent Garden area.

We hit all but one stop – electric company.  I believe there is one on Pentonville Road but to cut out some walking I opted not to trudge around looking for it.

We made a couple of quick detours along the way – Platform 9/4 at Kings Cross.  Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street and the fabulous Monopoly toilets at Marylebone station.

We stopped at all streets and stations and threw in the tokens too.  Amazingly, we found a top hat and were brave enough to have a Policeman send us to jail.

It was a great day but exhausting.  Not for the very young as its just too far.  Despite our mileage, we did also take a couple of buses and a tube ride.

A truly unique experience for us all and I hope one they remember look back on fondly.  Not many people can say they have toured the Monopoly board for real 🙂

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Being sent to Jail!

 

The West End – War Horse

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I recently celebrated my Birthday (Christmas baby 🙂 ) and was lucky enough to be given Theatre tickets to see War Horse in London’s West End, Drury lane.

While being in the UK, I wanted to make sure we had the opportunity to see a West End show.  A few years ago we did take the kids to see Mary Poppins on Broadway.  It was spectacular and I do believe that life experiences such as these are worth investing in to create memories and build well rounded individuals.

So with tickets in hand, we trotted off to London for the day.   To make a day of it, we opted to start with a museum.   We are not a big fan of busy crowded museums.  Just this last summer. we attempted the Natural History Museum in London.  We lasted 15 minutes before we headed back out of the door.  The number of people, crowds and queues make the large popular museums unbearable.   The rest of the day, we ditched the idea of ‘inside’ and headed into the great outdoors that London has to offer…so much better and kids were happier.

This trip, I wanted to visit one of the many museums has to offer but ensured it was a little more off the beaten path to avoid the masses.

We headed to the Foundling Museum.  Focusing on the history of the Foundling Hospital – the first every UK Childrens charity and first public art gallery.

This museum is great.  Small and easy to navigate.  NO crowds whatsoever and interactive for the kids.  Cost was low.  Kids are free and we had discounted admission with our National Trust membership.

The kids had the opportunity to learn about Foundling children and their lives.  Also the opportunity to dress as the children and fall into character for a few moments 🙂

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We spent about 90 mins in the museum so when we were done, we headed out to Covent Garden.  Just a 20 minute walk from Russell Square.  We took back streets to explore and landed in Covent Garden with the usual markets and street acts.

We’ve been to Covent Garden a couple of times.  I find it a little hit and miss.  The kids enjoy it, I mostly just tolerate it.  Fun to experience but only in small doses for me!

After a quick bite to eat, we headed to New London Theatre to see War Horse.  I had been to to the theatre in the the past to see Cats.  Its a small theatre which is great.  There isn’t a bad seat in the house and the performance is close up for all and more intimate in ways.

I was concerned about the story for the kids to see.  I had not seen the movie or read the book but I was aware that the story is sad and could be disturbing.    The stage production is recommended for ages 10+.  I would agree with that and perhaps depending on your 10 year old, maybe slightly older.   All in all, the production was fabulous.  With any concern about content, this is quickly forgotten as you become enthralled with the horses that take to the stage.  The puppetry involved is stellar and at times, you genuinely forget the horses aren’t real.  The kids loved it and my 2 10 year olds remained engaged throughout.  Considering this is a play and not a musical, this reinforces how superb a production this is.  Just make sure you pack your tissues…

 

 

Winter Wonderland

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Bavaria at Winter Wonderland

So we headed to London for a day trip, to experience Winter Wonderland, Hyde park.

I had heard a lot about it.  Heard it was really great and Christmassy.  So booked tickets weeks ago and planned to make a day of it with some family.

Winter Wonderland is free to enter.  Its essentially a MASSIVE fun fair but with a Christmas theme.  I will hasten to add that we didn’t explore the entire ‘site’.  There were markets, rides, activities, food and drink. However, what we did experience, did feel quite like a giant fun fair….thankfully, just not so muddy!

There are many things you can pay for – tickets needed.  Ice Skating. Circus, a show and Ice Kingdom.

We opted for Ice Kingdom only which I pre-booked.  We can skate in Maine whenever we want.  We have seen Cirque do Soleil and comparable shows and we thought the Ice Kingdom would be the most unique experience and festive feeling.

Ice Kingdom was fun.  It was well done and the ‘sculptures’ were beautiful (we debated if they were sculpted or moulded).  Themed around woodland creatures and fairytales, it was fun and the kids queued to slide down the ice slide.

While on the whole, most of us enjoyed it, a couple of the party did comment it was mediocre and over priced.  Considering the amount of people trawling through, the setting of Hyde Park and cost, it should have been better.  Perhaps they have a point?  But as they didn’t pay for the tickets and we quite enjoyed it, i have chosen to ignore the comments…

We spent hours at Winter Wonderland….and we only paid for one ‘activity’.  I am thankful we didn’t over book and over schedule our day.  Even ice skating would have been too much.  We didn’t have the time or the energy to add another thing.

As I have mentioned – it really is a giant fun fair.  Obviously the kids thought this was awesome…all the adults could have left this behind!   If there is one comment on cost, it should have been the rides.  The Ice Kingdom was far better value for money than the rides.   They operate through a token system.  Fairly standard but the tokens are 1 pound each.  Most rides were 3-9 tokens….perhaps even more.  With 3 kids in tow, that wanted to ride everything, we quickly put a cap on this…

The eldest picked a 9 token ride (!!!).  the younger 2, took 2 cheaper rides.  a total of 6 minutes entertainment for almost 25 pounds!   West end tickets woudl be a better deal i think!?   Well the kids had fun so that’s all that counts I think.

The absolute highlight of Winter Wonderland was the giant Toblerone win….a random game of luck.  a 2 pound ticket and we won 2kg of Toblerone chocolate.  We were shrieking with delight when we realised!  The downside is carrying 2kg of chocolate around London for the rest of the day/ evening!  We generated a lot of attention though with many people stopping us to ask us where to buy one!

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We headed out of Winter Wonderland in the early evening.  If you thought it was busy during the daytime, in the evening, folks were piling in in droves…so many crowds.  Any advice to go, I suggest early as possible during the day.  Especially if you don’t care for crowds.

We spent the early evening hours strolling around the gorgeous streets of London looking at lights and window shopping.  New Bond Street was a favorite.

We had a great time at Winter Wonderland but the most favorite part of the day, was before we got there.

We parked up in Bermondsey where we met a family member.  As we headed to Hyde Park, we detoured through Maltby Street Market.  Tucked into the arches of the bridge over head, the market is young, lively and creative.   Real London.  A great market focusing on food and drink.  We walked the market and tested almost every stall….vodka, grilled cheese sandwiches, waffles and bacon, coffee, honey and so much more.  We ate our way from one end to the other!  If you are in that area, this is a must do!

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Maltby Street Market

While our day trip was for Winter Wonderland, we enjoyed the market the most.  A gentle reminder that London has so much more to offer than tourist driven events that overwhelm.   We would most defineletely return to the market, Winter Wonderland – once was enough…