From Paris we took the Eurostar train to London, via the tunnel under the English Channel. I remember what a big deal it was when the 31-mile Chunnel opened, and I expected at least a trumpet fanfare as we went through it. Sadly there was no pageantry and the trip through the Chunnel was pretty anti-climactic: it feels like any other tunnel, just longer.
After a quick lunch at the train station in London, we hopped on the Tube to our apartment in western London. Our home for the Christmas and New Years holidays would be a second floor flat in a four-plex situated between a pair of Tube lines. The location is decent for commuting into the city, and it seemed to be undergoing some gentrification. There were some very trim homes, and a couple that had mattresses left out in the front yard. Amongst the Audis and Peugeots parked along the street were trucks owned by the sort of contractor who are expert in everything but spelling. One offered “kichen” installation among his/her many other services. Not exactly a ritzy area, but for us it was the best combination of price (London is not cheap!) and access to public transportation.
All told we spent about 2.5 weeks in London – one of my favorite cities. Plenty of that time was spent on life: schoolwork, laundry, replacing some worn/lost/broken gear, grocery shopping, etc. (To the befuddled lady at Asda on Christmas Eve: I apologize for “helping” you by taking your shopping cart from you as you were trying to return it to the rack of carts. I didn’t realize you had to pay a deposit to unlock a cart, and therefore by taking your empty cart I was also taking your deposit. No wonder you seemed taken aback by my offer! I’m sorry! I didn’t keep the deposit, and instead paid it forward by giving the cart to someone else when I was done).
We also had some holiday-related errands, such as finding Christmas lights (we learned these are “fairy lights” in the UK), finding a decent roast to cook for Christmas dinner, and figuring out how to come up with a reasonable facsimile of a Christmas tree (Lauren found a tiny potted pine tree at a local church’s tree lot that served admirably well).
London is huge and full of interesting things to do; you could spend a lifetime exploring all of the sights, shows, and museums. Some of the attractions are world-famous (British Museum! Buckingham Palace!); others less-so (British Dental Association Dental Museum!). It is perhaps the peak of first-world hubris to assume we’ll be back to London again some day, but that is exactly what we did when planning our time here. Rather than see as much as possible, we paced ourselves and tried to ensure we had some significant downtime. Some of the stuff we did get out to see/do:
- Visited the Warner Brothers museum that houses the sets from the Harry Potter movies. This was absolutely captivating and worth its own post (stay tuned!).
- Visited Greenwich, where the boys reluctantly posed for the mandatory photo straddling the Prime Meridian and pooh-poohed the fascinating exhibits about astronomy, timekeeping, and navigation.
- Made a pilgrimage to Cambridge, where we ignored most of the city and its rich history and architecture so Jack could visit the one and only official store for the Raspberry Pi computer, followed by a visit to a computer + video game museum. Lauren was an excellent sport about all this nerdery.
- Returned to the London Transport Museum. We were here with the boys a few years ago; it’s a little sad that they have aged out of all of the (excellent) exhibits aimed at little kids.
- Attended a show! We saw Hamilton, which was both brilliant and far cheaper/easier to get tickets for than in New York. Most of the people sitting around us were clearly Americans with the same idea.
- Saw an exhibit from King Tut’s tomb, on exhibit outside Egypt for the last time, or so they claim. (Egypt is finalizing a massive billion-dollar museum to house all its treasures).
- Returned to the Tower of London, where the kids got to see the Crown Jewels for the first time.
- Saw Star Wars 🙂
We also had visitors! Lauren’s mom flew in for a few days just after Christmas. It was nice to see a familiar face for the first time in months. The bad news is that she sprained her ankle (later learning it was broken!!) just before arriving, so we were a bit mobility-challenged. (Request to the Old People in our family: please stop messing up your ankles. There’s been far too much of that over the past couple years. Love, all of your kids and grandkids).
Grandma’s visit brought some welcome supplies from the states, and also that rarest of treats: babysitting! Lauren and I got our first night out together in months – thank you! We used it for a delightful dinner with my cousin and her husband, who live in London.
Despite limited mobility we made it to the Churchill War Rooms, a fascinating time capsule from World War II. The War Rooms are bunkers used by Churchill and his staff to lead British efforts in the war. At the end of the war, the lights were shut off and the bunker largely forgotten about (and therefore preserved). It’s since been turned into a museum depicting its use in the war – complete with the actual maps, charts, and so on used to fight the war.
With grandma we also visited the London Eye, and the small but quite interesting museum dedicated to Florence Nightingale. We also took a classic double decker tourist bus around the main sites.