This was our first stop in a nearly three week long trip to Europe with kids this summer. We’ve already posted the general information and will be posting about each stop over the next week. Nothing on this vacation was sponsored. All research and payment was our own.
After a direct, redeye flight from San Francisco, we were tired and weary, and had to spend about 90 minutes getting through customs. The line was horrendous and it was hot and stuffy with so many people crammed into a maze of a line. The airport staff handed out water bottles to help. My tip is to use the bathroom as soon as you get off the plane in case you’re stuck in line for a long time.
Once we made it through, we met our driver from Blackberry car service, who had stayed at our arranged meeting spot despite our delay, and took us to the flat we’d rented in South Kensington.
We met with our rental agent (see below for details), unpacked a little, then headed out for something to eat. We walked to The Drayton Arms, arriving smack dab in between lunch and dinner, and ordered fish and chips plus the best cider I’ve ever had.
After eating, we stopped at a local grocery store to buy the basics, then we headed back and soon fell asleep.
We walked to the Tube and headed to the Churchill War Rooms. We arrived before it opened to avoid the crowds. We bought our tickets there and the line was short, but this was all because it was early. An audio tour was included with the tickets. The Churchill War Rooms were interesting, but after awhile – maybe an hour – I was done with it, but carried on. My son and husband were far more engaged and could have stayed much longer than we did. I couldn’t have survived long working and living there, in such tight, dark quarters filled with cigarette smoke.
We left, walking by Parliament and through Trafalgar Square, ending up at Maxwell’s Bar & Grill for lunch in Covent Garden. Maxwell’s was a key stop anticipated by my kids because of the Freakshake. It was a milkshake with a dessert on top, so a dessert with a dessert. The trip could have ended here and it would have been a success for them.
We walked on again, through the crowds near 1o Downing Street, Big Ben and Westminster Abby, then walked across the Thames to the London Eye. This was where we should have pre-purchased a ticket. The lines were long and slow, and it was hot, but we felt that we had to ride the eye. It was fun and I’m glad we did it, but it was a physical drain. We walked back across the river, jumped on the Tube to Buckingham Palace (walkable, but hey, we had the day pass and we’re getting tired), took the requisite photos, then headed back to our apartment.
After a little lounging and British TV, we walked to Rossopomodoro Chelsea for dinner, which was exactly what we’d been craving. Don’t dismiss it for being a chain – it was really good.
Another early start on the Tube to the Tower of London. Arriving near opening was again the perfect thing to do, even if it meant harassing the kids out of bed and moving before they were ready. The only line was to buy our ticket, and that was short enough. We saw the Crown Jewels first, then walked around and around. The ravens were a favorite, too. It’s much more beautiful on the grounds than I expected. We opted against an organized free tour because the groups were large and the kids weren’t interested. We were able to do everything on our own, except enter the church, but the tour groups are so large that it was possible to blend into one of those groups to join the church-leg of the tour.
We left the Tower of London and walked to Borough Market. It was crowded, but we were able to see all kinds of different foods and buy things here and there for lunch. My daughter’s favorite was the giant meringue with macarons. The only problem about getting lunch from the stalls is that there isn’t sufficient places to sit. We wedged ourselves onto a curb, but even that was cramped with people.
Next was Tate Modern, a fairly short walk from the Borough Market. We saw the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit, which was fantastic. We paid for entry into that exhibit, but we were pleasantly surprised by how much of the museum was free. After the O’Keefe exhibit, we wandered around into different areas, seeing a wide variety of art genres. It was lovely.
Right out the door of the Tate was a Starbucks, and while we try to avoid places we could go at home, we made a beeline for the door. The upside was that the menu was a bit different and the staff was entirely French, making it feel different than an American Starbucks.
After we recovered, we headed back home, stopping at Wildwood for dinner.
Our trip to Cardiff has its own post.
Travel fatigue finally set in and the heat wave didn’t help. We scrapped our ambitious morning plans and stayed in. We had reservations for a Sunday roast at about noon, allowing us to have a leisurely morning before putting on the nicer clothes we’d packed for the trip and walking to Hawksmoor Knightsbridge for what turned out to be one of the most amazing meals we’ve had. The restaurant was fancy, but not in a rigid way, making it impressive and welcoming for the kids. While not listed on the menu, they have a kid’s size roast plate, which was more than enough for them and half the cost of an adult’s plate. The kids loved it all, including the fancy fruit drink my son ordered and their first Yorkshire pudding.
Though full, we made our way to the Victoria and Albert Museum a few blocks away. It’s free and being a summer Sunday, it was crowded. Still, we saw plenty, including architecture exhibits that we were soon learning was a real interest of my son’s.
Continuing on our walk home, we stopped at The Hummingbird Bakery for cupcakes to go, then headed home, opened all the windows, turned on the TV, finished laundry, and packed for Paris.
We checked out of our apartment, grabbed an Uber, and headed to St. Pancras station with what we thought was plenty of time. Morning traffic was worse than anticipated and we go to the train station with what seemed to be sufficient time, but we weren’t encountering going through Parisian customs before boarding. We were shopping for biscuits, lunch, and a final stockpile of British candy when we heard the announcement that it was the last call for our train. Confused, we looked at our watches, and ran to the gate, even though our train wasn’t leaving for some time. This isn’t Amtrak, for sure.
The lines were chaotic as everyone was just as frantic and packed into a small spot. We made it to the train and then sat there because there really was extra time, it’s just not how they operate there. We wanted to get on early not only to make sure we were securely on the train, but because we were traveling with a significant amount of luggage. Those coming on late had trouble finding spots for their suitcases, as all spots designed for luggage were crammed full. We read warnings on review sites to watch for thieves, and bought a wire lock to run through all of the handles to keep our luggage together. Honestly, I don’t remember if we used the lock on this ride because our bags were buried, making them hard to snatch and run. We just kept an eye on them when the train made its few stops.
The train got moving and before we knew it, we were in France.
Blackberry car service. We made arrangements and paid ahead of time. Print out the proof of payment, as our driver asked to verify that before he said goodbye to us.
We used A Place Like Home to rent a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment in South Kensington. We’d been looking at Airbnb, but Trip Advisor members advised using a local company in London and we went with one of the ones recommended. Someone met us at the building, quickly got us familiar with the place, and left. She returned on check out day and was just as efficient.
South Kensington was perfect for us because it was far from the hustle of the touristy areas and it was posh in a way that added to the allure of London. We’re used to high end cars in Silicon Valley, but this neighborhood of old homes and buildings doesn’t have garages, causing the street parking to be taken up by Porsches and Lamborghinis, all covered in leaves, dust and bird poop due to being left unprotected outside. We were a few blocks from the Tube and restaurants and schools, which was noteworthy because we arrived during the last days of the school term and each morning we saw kids dressed in uniforms, looking like Madeline, rushing off to a nearby French school. It was lovely.
Our apartment was beautiful, but quirky in the way that all old buildings are. There was an incline in the house, most felt in the hallway, and it made for an awkward shower. The stall was tight, but when adding a slope, it made showering a challenge.
We used a mixture of walking, the Tube, and Uber. All were simple and straightforward.