UK: Day Four

Day Four:

June 18, 2013

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace

We got up early today and rode the tube across town to get on the “hop-on hop-off” tour around the town. We got on by Buckingham Palace with the intention of riding the entire loop and arriving back at Buckingham Palace for the “changing of the guard.”

The bus tour took us around all of central London and had an interesting commentary on many landmarks.  The kids enjoyed the special kids commentary, which kept them entertained about 90% of the time. Traffic was fairly heavy today, so we didn’t make it the around the entire loop before we abandoned the bus and hot footed off to Buckingham Palace to try to catch the changing of the guard. I think that is where all of the tourists in town were at that given moment. We didn’t make it up against the gates to see them handing off the keys, but we did see the band and horses and marching foot guards with their big black “bearskin” hats. From there we went on a wild goose chase (not literally) for lunch and then headed for Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey

The girls enjoyed a scavenger hunt for trivia question answers with the promise of a free chocolate coin prize if they completed the questions.  (They did it!) We were even able to borrow monk costumes for the girls to wear for some photo ops in the abbey gardens and cloisters. My favorite part was the tomb where Queen Elizabeth I was buried with her half-sister (and rival) Queen Mary. From Westminster we decided to head back to the hotel for a little downtime in the room and some dinner at the hotel. After some rest, we walked up to the West End to take in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Royal Drury Theatre. It was FABULOUS!!!  Both girls loved it (maybe even as much as Jeff and I).charlie and choc factory

UK: Day Three

View from of London from the "golden gallery" at the top of St. Paul's Cathedral
View from of London from the “golden gallery” St. Paul’s Cathedral

Day Three:

June 17, 2013

I woke up around 4:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I spent a few hours uploading photos and planning out another “death march” (Jeff’s words). After everyone finally woke up (around 9) we got dressed and stopped into Starbucks for breakfast. We decided to check out the neighborhood where we are staying by taking a walk around. We are staying in the City of London, which is a smaller district of Greater London. Read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_London

Just up the street is Temple Church, a church that dates back to the 12th century. It is surrounded by the Inns of Court, the professional associations for barristers (attorneys) in Wales and England. We wandered through the area, which is like a little village where barristers work and law students live and attend classes.  After Temple Church, we continued our walk along Fleet Street where we saw several landmarks including the Royal Courts of Justice, the Temple Bar Monument and St. Bride’s Church.

About mid-day, we arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s is where Charles and Diana got married in 1981. We wandered the church – which is huge and intricate at the same time.  We climbed 257 steps from the cathedral floor to the “whispering gallery” at the interior of the base of the huge dome and then another 119 to the stone gallery. There we could go outside to take in the views of the city. Just when we thought we could not climb another stair, we found the cubby hole to a stairway that led another 152 steps to the “golden gallery,” a tiny balcony ledge surrounding the exterior of the dome crown on the outside. Kiki didn’t enjoy the “see through” stairs, but we all made it up (and back down again).  St. Paul’s was fantastic but exhausting, so we wandered next door to Paternoster Square and grabbed some take-out lunch.

Beefeater
Beefeater

After lunch, we hopped on the tube to the Tower of London. We spent a few hours exploring the 16 acre grounds and the various buildings.  The Tower of London is a historic castle that dates back to the Norman conquest.  It has been used for many things over the centuries, most notably a prison.  Queen Elizabeth I was imprisoned here by her Catholic half-sister Queen “Bloody Mary” I before she ascended to the throne.  It is also home (literally) to the beloved Beefeater guards.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

The Tower of London is also where the Crown Jewels of England have been stored for safe keeping since they were stolen and then recovered from Westminster Abbey in 1303.  The line for the Crown Jewels was too long to get us in before closing time, so Jeff offered to show us his instead.  We took a pass on “Jeffs Jewels” and tried to catch the Tower Bridge “experience” which allows you to go out on the upper level of the bridge.  We arrived just as they shut and locked the door. That was a good sign that we needed to end the day, so we hopped the tube back to our local station and had some dinner in a neighborhood pub before heading in for the night.

(Kiki’s estimate of stairs climbed today- 900 million. Up AND down.)

UK: Day Two

Day Two:

June 16, 2013 (Father’s Day)

IMG_0248
Kai and her new friend Pati (and his brother Nemhi)
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Kiki and I were awake by 5:30 am, so I used the time to plan the day. Since it is Sunday, most things don’t open until after 10am.  We had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel restaurant and then wandered down the Thames river until we found the Millennium Bridge. On the south side of the river we found Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and stopped in for a look at the museum and the theatre tour. Built in 1997, Shakespeare’s Globe is a reproduction of the original globe theater that was destroyed by fire in 1614, rebuilt and then demolished in 1644 due to religious pressure from the Puritans.  I really wished I would have planned ahead so that we could have seen a show here.  For now, I am adding that to my bucket list.

From the Globe, we wandered to along the river to the London Bridge. Under the bridge there was a tourist attraction called “The London Bridge Experience.” It was definitely an unforgettable experience.  Essentially, it was a London themed haunted house that terrified the girls (and, if I am honest, more than terrified me). We made it through, but emerged with both girls in tears.  Dad of the year award: forthcoming.

Painted faces on the London Eye
Painted faces on the London Eye

Further downstream, we decided to stop for lunch and stumbled upon a French sidewalk cafe. The girls didn’t enjoy the food, but the professional face painter that they had on hand for Father’s Day was a big hit. We walked away with a tiger and a lion.

After lunch, we hopped on the tube and made our way to the London Eye. The view was spectacular (but not necessarily worth the steep price tag).  After the ride, the girls had some playtime at a playground before we had to tube it to dinner at the Medieval Banquet. We enjoyed a dinner show with “medieval” entertainment (and food). The seating was family style and we happened to be seated by a family that was vacationing from Kashmir.  Their boys were 4 and 6. Kiki fell asleep straight away, but Kai made friends with the boys Nemhi and Pati. We exchanged email addresses so they could be pen pals.  (Kai and Pati are still in touch.)

So far, we are all loving London.  There is so much to see I can barely stand taking a break to sleep!

UK: Day One

Look Left

Day One:

June 15, 2013

Our flights went off without a hitch.  We had heard about delays due to security at the airport, so we arrived with plenty of time to spare. My plan to knock the kids (and myself) out with Melatonin did not go as planned so by the time we had arrived in London, (10 hours flying and 1 hour layover in Reykjavik)  Kai and I were going on almost no sleep.

Platform 9 3/4
Platform 9 3/4

We arrived in London on Saturday just in time for the annual Trooping the Colours celebrations for the Queen (to celebrate her April birthday). We missed the parades and pageantry but we did get to see the flyovers by several RAF aircraft and (I think) the queen in her helicopter with two escorts. It was pretty neat to see the planes, but was a bit unnerving until we realized it was a celebration and London was not under attack.

After weaving all through London because of road closures due to the celebration, we made it to our hotel and checked in. After a bit of rest (but still no sleep for Kai or me) and some dinner at our hotel restaurant, we wandered out to explore. We stumbled upon a nice walking path along the South Bank. It was robust with Saturday evening happenings, which we enjoyed taking in. Our walk landed us in Trafalgar Square near a tube station, so we hopped aboard for an adventure to find Kings Cross Station and platform 9 3/4. There was an official queue and shop selling souvenirs, so the girls took advantage of the props for a fun photo op. By 9:30 we were all ready to crash, so we headed back to the room and crashed hard.