Before Phillip and I were married and my parents were still living in Italy, we traveled with two of our best friends (not another couple) to Europe just because we could. We flew into Rome and drove our way up to my folks' house north of Venice. It was, quite possibly, the worst vacation of my life because I was caught between the needs and wants of my very VERY good friend and my future HUSBAND. Very Good Friend's goal was to spend as little as possible while seeing as much as possible. Future Husband's goal was to...hmm. Eat? See a few things? Be comfortable while enjoying himself? Oh, and buy stuff.
The worst part was when we reached Florence and our hotel reservation was messed up (probably my fault, everything felt like my fault) and it turned out we'd all have to share a tiny room and Very Good Friend declared she would sleep in the bathtub before paying for another room and Future Husband was sick and tired of slumming it and grumping around and I called my mother in tears from a payphone because OMG WORST TRIP EVER.
My travel style was, and still is, much more in line with Very Good Friend, but I ended up MARRYING Mr. Comfortable. KEEP THIS IN MIND.
So London! One of my very absolute favorite cities in the WORLD. A bajillion things to see, a crap ton of history to delve into, AND A MUSICAL EVERY NIGHT. Okay, maybe that is my ideal London trip, if it were, you know, just me.
I spent weeks agonizing over where to stay, the area being mainly dictated by the location of Phillip's company's office. NOW. If I were doing this OVER. I would not NECESSARILY go along with trying to find a place as close to the office as possible because London has an excellent public transportation system, especially if you are riding solo. But without the benefit of hindsight, we were trying to find a place close enough for Phillip to walk, and which would also be relatively near a tube station.
Those parameters in mind, and the discovery that there weren't a lot of apartments available to rent in that area plus the stomach sickening price of hotels sent me a bit farther out, but I thought I found the perfect spot. A two-bedroom apartment with an amazing view, walkable to the office, smack in between two tube stations, seemingly close to restaurants and sights. Also it was the best price I could find.
And you know what, it worked. IT WORKED. But it wasn't quite as walkable as I'd hoped. The walk to Phillip's office took more like 20 minutes and while the walk to the tube bordered on 10 to 15 and not THAT horrible, I had not factored in my unpleasant-when-forced-to-physically-exert-themselves children and how that 10-15 minutes started us off each day on a Tired Foot.
It wasn't even a very NICE walk, since our area was pretty residential and absolutely packed with people trying to get back and forth to work. Also construction. CONSTRUCTION EVERYFREAKINGWHERE.
Phillip's mom and dad stayed in a more tourist-friendly spot about 15-20 minutes away from us and would often meet us at the Shard, the easiest halfway point between our two locations. The thing was, the first few days I was still thinking we would walk and tube everywhere and it would have been smarter if I'd just admitted defeat right off the bat and walked/tubed/cabbed/Ubered from the beginning. My default should have been: "What is the EASIEST thing to do right now" instead of "What is the FASTEST" or "What is the SMARTEST" or "What would a Smart and Seasoned Traveler like myself approve of right now?" Because those answers were always wrong. The fast thing was never fast and the smartest thing always made me look stupid. You know how I feel about looking stupid. My personal stupid standards were extra stupid for this trip, but then again, even the easiest thing wasn't always easy. I don't know WHY getting around London was so hard when there are so many WAYS to get around London, but we had a difficult time of it. Next time: live next door to a tube with at least four lines. The end.
THAT SAID. Here is the list of things we did (or, rather, things I dragged everyone along to):
- The National Gallery (we saw Van Gogh's sunflowers and Monet's water lily bridge, both paintings we studied in homeschool art class
- The Museum of London
- The Tower of London
- Greenwich and the Royal Observatory
- Hamley's the amazing toy store
- playgrounds everywhere
- Westminster Abbey (might be my favorite thing I did with the kids in London)
- river bus rides on the Thames
- catching the Horse Guard ceremony near St. James' Park
- Clink Museum
- Churchill War Rooms
- eating fish and chips
- eating terrible English food
- Borough Market
- Trafalgar Square
- dim sum in Chinatown
- watching weirdos perform at Leicester Square
That's some good stuff! A lot of good stuff! I don't know why I was always so down on myself in London for "not doing it right" when we did get to do SO MUCH!
Phillip was anxious about work, so I did most of the planning and sightseeing on my own and with his folks. After his first day he was a lot less nervous, so it was okay that I'd bought tickets to Wicked that night (I CANNOT HELP MYSELF AROUND DISCOUNT TICKET STANDS.) London was hard for Phillip - too crowded, too much, too hard to get places. He really loved the morning we spent in Greenwich ("I feel like I can breathe!") and was fairly unhappy with me for nagging everyone to get back to the boat in time so we could see Matilda that afternoon.
I am only going to tell you this story because I have been praying for more humility and what is more humbling (humiliating?) than telling everyone the Matilda story?
I love shows. I LOVE SHOWS. I see absolutely no reason why a trip to London shouldn't be sightseeing during the day and a play at night. Every night. So I was FOR SURE taking my children to a show in London and one of you Kind Readers suggested Matilda and I looked it up and HELLO, PERFECT. And then I spent hours - HOURSSSSS - mulling over dates and times and seats and ticket prices and going back and forth with Phillip about how much and when and OMG I decided this thing to death. I wanted it to be AWESOME. So that is why I paid full price for the second-most-expensive seats you could get, right by the aisle on the floor because I'd read there was a lot of action in the aisles for this show. It was totally worth it to me to spend that much money and I was so excited. I looked forward to it the entire trip. THE ENTIRE TRIP. I booked it for the last evening we'd be in London, so even if the rest of our London trip was terrible, at least we'd have that last night at the theater to look forward to.
On the train from Stansted Airport into the city, after a nightmare experience with Effing Ryanair out of Treviso, I got out my London With Families guidebook and wrote out the days we'd be there and started planning our stay. And that is when I realized that I bought our Matilda tickets for the evening we were flying OUT. Our flight home left London at 1pm June 9. Our Matilda tickets were for 7pm June 9. And then I threw up.
Well, no, I held it in, but I WANTED to throw up. And I didn't tell Phillip right away because 1) I'd ALREADY made a similar mistake with our Paris airfare WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME and 2) he was exhausted from not trying to kill Ryanair reps and 3) he was really nervous about work and 4) we were looking at a complicated and unpleasant tube trip with 3 kids and suitcases to our apartment.... IT WAS AWFUL.
Much much later that evening I shut my eyes and blurted what I'd done. And he didn't run screaming into the river! With a very large sigh he told me he'd call and see if anything could be done.
GUESS WHAT. Nothing could be done. Nothing. Our only option was to try and sell them online (which you are not supposed to do, I am such a rule follower, GAH.) I felt terrible. Did I mention we were reading Matilda each night during the trip and I'd been talking up the show to the kids?
So then a few days later we were in Leicester Square where all the discount ticket shops are. And I went into every single one of them asking about Matilda and in every single one of them they looked at me like I was crazy. "You know that's a very popular show," one ticket seller said. "It's very HARD to get tickets for that show."
As we were heading OUT of Leicester Square and as I was trying to figure out how to tell my children how badly Mommy had messed up, we passed one more ticket stand and Phillip said, "Do you want to try that one?" (HE ASKED. HE SAW IT FIRST.) Of course I did, so I went in and MIRACLE OF MIRACLES, someone had just returned a set of 8 Matilda tickets for the next afternoon. AND DID I WANT THEM?
They wanted nearly as much for those tickets as I paid for my original tickets. Phillip couldn't do it. Then he said, "So we have these OTHER tickets..." and I died because RULE FOLLOWER and we're not supposed to make deals with those and of course they'll scold us and now they know I'm an idiot!!!! But it turns out you CAN make deals sometimes? I KNOW. She was willing to knock 100 pounds off the price of the five tickets we wanted if we gave her our tickets.
This was a hassle because we didn't HAVE the tickets and Phillip had to be escorted to some print shop to get into my email and print them out and he was UNHAPPY and ANNOYED and FEELING BROKE AS WELL and I tried to look properly chastened, but it was hard because I WAS GOING TO GET TO TAKE MY KIDS TO MATILDA!!!!
Okay, so there is another loooong story about why we were a half hour LATE to Matilda, but that makes Phillip look bad instead of me and we are only humiliating ME on the website today. (LONDON WAS HARD)
Matilda was so great. It really was. Even from seats in the second to last row in the theater. And I LOVED taking my big kids to Wicked (they knew all the songs, we HAD to go). I LOOOOVED taking them through art and history museums, especially if there was an audio guide. They'd listen intently and then rush over to tell me what they'd just learned. Westminster Abbey was TERRIFIC with kids, and the docents there are SO kind and SO happy to chat. We loved every park and every playground and we generally found good things to eat (if very expensive) (the Borough Market is definitely worth a look). The Tower of London was difficult with a three-year-old who finds uneven stairs unfriendly and a YeYe who didn't want to climb stairs at all, but we were very interested in the armory and the gory story of the little princes in the tower. I even found the Crown Jewels interesting because Molly was there to gape at them.
We wish we would have spent a whole day at Greenwich. We wish we could have figured out where to catch the buses we wanted to catch. The Clink Museum was too yucky and scary, even though someone's mother told him EXACTLY how yucky and scary it would be. We did not get enough pictures with street performers. We should have gone directly to the ground floor of the Museum of London where the cool Victorian street is (and Molly's reaction to a photo of a little boy during the Blitz ensured we would not be going to the Imperial War Museum). Yours truly could have spent many more hours in the Churchill War Rooms, but the big kids were tired and kept asking me who the man in the big coat was, wait, who is he again?
One of the best things we did was meet my 9th grade BFF and her husband for fish and chips in a random street off Oxford Street, which was not anything that had to do with London itself and serves to remind me that I don't HAVE to go go go go go go go go all the time. Although I like to. Ahem.
If you are going with kids and have questions, email me, I will try to say more than JUST TAKE A CAB. (I really really wish I was one of those people who are all NO SWEAT, JUST HOP ON A BUS, EASY PEASY! but man, it just did not work that way for us.)
But it's okay, I'll be back. I did not see NEARLY enough war stuff OR shows. Yay London!
Next installment: Paris, In Which I Am Forced To Ride A Bike.