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Distant Lands

Thursday, 11 December 2008

London Calling

We chose London as a destination because we were making this trip all about the kids.  London was also the one place that we could go that had no connections en route and had a daytime departure and arrival.  Well, it was the one place that we would want to go from Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia since we wanted to go somewhere vaguely civilized.  And being an English speaking country was an added bonus.  

So departing at a civilized hour of the morning, rather than those dreaded 2am or 4am departures, we flew into Heathrow.  Terminal 5 was not open yet, so it was busses from the tarmac, but we were one adult per child, so no worries at all on this trip.  We were officially on vacation.  We’d checked one bag and had one carry on each, so the amount of stuff was even manageable.   One of our strategies for traveling with children is to spend all the money on the hotel, since we retain our nap, snacks and bedtime schedule, so we do tend to spend quite a bit of our time in or near the hotel.  Small bed and breakfasts are usually accommodating, particularly if you’re able to convince your kids to behave extra good the first evening and following morning.  Good manners translates to charming children and that will get you further than any monetary tip, particularly in Great Britain.  The kids were thrilled; planes, bus, train from the airport to Paddington Station (complete with bear), then a black London cab to the hotel.  From there we mostly walked and took the Tube.  

The difference with this trip was that we let the kids choose what we did each day.  We had five days and one of our travel realities is ONE THING each day.  Anything extra is bonus, but not to be counted on, disappointed about if it doesn’t happen, lucky and fun.  The one thing is our goal, and all else is en route to or from the goal.  The weather was chilly, and late March early April is not the usual time that folks go to London!  

Now, they’re only four and six, so it isn’t like we give them carte blanche to decide what to do.  We’re all about choices, but as parents, we made the first cut.  Our list was: Peter Pan, The Lady in Pink’s Tower (aka Big Ben for those of you not familiar with Backyardigans yet), aquarium, zoo and dinosaurs.  Peter Pan is in Hyde Park, a small statue and so on our exploring day, the first one, we walked to Oxford Street and the Marble Arch tube stop, took the long way around (Marble Arch is on the corner of Hyde Park, but we needed to go to the other side) by taking a double-decker on a long scenic route.  That was fun and we got off practically where we got on, but it gave us a morning to see things – St. Paul’s Cathedral where the Feed the Birds lady from Mary Poppins was, the Bank where Mr. Banks worked (17 Cherry Tree Lane is much further away from central London), the lions on Trafalgar Square, the Globe Theatre, London Bridge of course, Tower of London and Westminster/Big Ben.  And every Dalmatian that we saw was ‘one of the one hundred and one’!  One reason for the way of ‘seeing’ things is that they have the attention span of newts.  They basically want a fly-by of each attraction, rather than hang around and learning a million and one historical details.  They’ll get those at a later date.  We got off at some point for lunch, got back on, that kind of thing.  We’d bought a week-long pass that covered the Tube, buses and such.

Going to the aquarium had an added bonus of being next to the London Eye. I personally think it is a monstrous eye-sore, but it did offer an astounding view.  We always go to the zoo in the cities we visit, so that is pretty much expected as a choice and we all have animals we want to find, but the nice part about only doing one thing each day is the pace.  It’s relatively easy to relax when you have a quiet breakfast some time between 7am and 9am, then clean up and load backpacks (one per adult) and head out.  She’s four, and petite; the pace is slow.  Father and Son wander ahead and run back, scout around and both parents know where we’re heading, waiting at each corner.  The dinosaur day, Natural History Museum, got crowded and the kids decided that we’d try the Science Museum nearby also.  Both are astounding, the building of the Natural History Museum in particular.  We did a scavenger hunt there, sure to take pictures of our successful hunters.  Son took Daughter through the dinosaurs, for his third time, and we got close enough to hear him tell her, “That’s a bigtoeasaurus, because of his big toes.”  They loved the animatronic velociraptors and tyrannosaurus, and while eyes were big, they insisted that they were not scared.   We usually arrived at our intended attraction around 11 or so, and had ourselves an early lunch, enjoyed the attraction until 3pm or so, returned to the hotel and had the kids take a nap while we read or one of us wandered off for some shopping.

The goals and destinations were not the focus, which made for a lovely vacation.  Keeping the kids on their routine, even though we were on vacation, meant that they knew what to expect, and when, and so were able to enjoy the fun, exploratory and new things tucked into it.  A bed and breakfast hotel, with some amenities (aka “tea” in the afternoon) makes a cozy, private retreat or a four-star hotel (usually on points!) with more customer service than sense (such as a business lounge), both have adjoining rooms available or family suites, both provide a nice quiet place to sit and read or mouse around while children nap and allow kids to settle in at their normal bedtime without forcing their parents to do the same.  One thing we do is ‘theme’ our vacations.  For instance, once we looked for the bull in Istanbul.  This theme was the children’s choices, all well documented with photos.  And one of the most fun things we’ve discovered with these two is that they love to take pictures.  Fortunately making photo books is super easy now, and the kids really enjoy looking back at ‘their’ trip.
Posted in Europe : Young Child by Sara at 7:42 PMPermalink

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