Sunday, 18 October 2015

a last look back at London

That's us back from London. I enjoyed sleeping in my own bed. 

Do you take your kids on city breaks? This was our first city break with four kids, the last time we visited a city was before James and Alistair lived with us. 

I like visiting cities. There is something for everybody, particularly in a huge city such as London. Two parent families can split up and do different things with different kids, which is good if one set of siblings loves dinosaur bones and the other doesn't, or when teenagers need a lie-in and little ones need to burn off energy. On the whole however we explored London as a family. We try to do things that we all like but we don't shy away from doing things that maybe just some of us like. Inevitably, there was moaning and minor uprisings but life is not always kind and being reminded of that in a gentle way is ok, yes? Learning to cope with boredom is essential for future grown-ups. We try keep activities short and sweet so nobody has to suffer for an unbearably long time, if somebody is suffering that is. There is always a treat in store to break up the days. For us, this is usually food. I am no different from the children, my boredom threshold is pretty low. In a museum we would maybe restrict our visit to one level and then leave. Long walks can be interrupted by a bus ride or a quick run around at a playground. 

It is always surprising to see which of our children likes what. This is not entirely predictable. 

James surprised us more than once. We knew he would like the National History Museum because most children do. He also liked the Science Museum, which is full of entertaining exhibits. But he also enjoyed the Tate Modern and the National Portrait Gallery. Generally James approach to museum visits is comparable to that of a bee trying to sample lots of flowers, somewhat erratically and without stopping. He likes to press buttons but doesn't like to wait and see what happens. He was amazed at the art installations at the Tate and he was keen to find out how and when people died at the National Portrait Gallery. 

Sam loved the virtual reality stuff at the Science Museum and he is still quite  happy to see the dinosaur bones. He liked the Tate Modern in his own way, shaking his head in wonder at the 'scribbles and piles of rubbish', quite possiblly planning his own career in modern art (after all it is easy to throw a few pots of paints against a wall...). I think Sam was quite interested in the lives of some of the individuals shown at the National Portrait Gallery but expressed disdain for some of the people he 'doesn't approve of' (in that quaint, black and white teenage way). 

Annie enjoyed the shoe exhibition at the V &A and Alistair liked the dinosaurs at the National History Museum but on the whole for them, museums are not a great pass-time. Annie prefers the shops, Alistair his sisters smart phone. They are good at keeping each other company whilst waiting on a bench for the rest of the family to finish with their educational enjoyment. 

They all loved the Wellcome Collection, which we visited before travelling back to Glasgow (instead of stuffing ourselves at Nando's outside Euston). It is a good place for kids with plenty of weird and wonderful exhibits and we could leave our luggage in the cloak room. Have you been? The shop and cafe are excellent, too.

You may now think we dashed from museum to museum but of course we didn't. We visited the zoo, played at playgrounds, visited markets, explored Chinatown and Covent Gardens and we did a good deal of people watching. We also visited Hamleys. Richard and I sat it out at the cafe on the top floor whilst Sam and Annie took a little one each and explored the millions of toys. We spent a lot of time riding buses. Buses are cheaper than the tube and more entertaining, once the novelty of underground trains has worn off. We went to books shops and Paperchase and old fashioned sweet shops. We allowed plenty of time for street entertainers and we even briefly ventured into the M&M shop. (I will never to go back. Dante would have added another circle of hell if he'd known about the M&M shop). 

We also like doing things on the cheap. For this reason we did not go on the London Eye and other 'must dos', nor did we go to see a show. 

We didn't skimp on food because we all enjoy food. Richard and I were determined not to cook and I am pleased to say that we didn't. We ate dinner in a different country every day. Well sort of. We enjoyed Italian, Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Indian and Eritrean. The last one was a first for me, it was an interesting experience, picking up food with pieces of sourdough pancakes of sorts rather than cutlery. The pancakes were not that great but the rest was delicious.

James is the most adventurous eater of all, followed by Annie. Sam was complaining continuously because we couldn't just have 'normal' food (pizza and pasta). Alistair is not a great eater but usually eats what he is given. For lunch we generally opted for street food, for example at the Lower Marsh market, or Brixton market. Usually we ate different things from different stalls, for example one day Alistair polished off a great big Hungarian sausage, James opted for Pad Thai, Richard had a Korean BBQ, Annie and Sam got pizza frog Greggs and I had samosas. 

Staying in a Air B&B house was great, so much better than staying in a hotel, and much more relaxed, and cheaper, too. We'll do that again. In a different city of course. We don't really agree on where we want to go but there is time to discuss. Any suggestions?

Finally, our favourite parts of the holiday: 

Alistair: the time when he could say hello to a dog and his lego man
James: noodles and the zoo
Annie: the shoe exhibition and a souvlaki lunch
Sam: the virtual reality experience and Borough market
Richard: the Korean BBQ roll, the oyster and the Eritrean food
Me: watching the world go by on the bus and the fabric shops

Have a great week! Cxx


  1. Oh yes, I think noodles and the zoo for me too. It sounds like you all had a brilliant time. Ours are made to endure things that they don't love for the sake of the others as well. And usually they have at least an okay time. A city break is a great idea, it's something I'd like to do with mine one day. We avoid the expensive things as well. I hardly spent any money at all when I took my eldest to London a while back, and he had a fantastic time. One tube ride, some stamps from Stanley Gibbons for his collection (it was part of his birthday present) and a £2 ice-cream. He still talks about it now. CJ xx

    1. PS As for where to go next, maybe Rome or Florence or Venice? I don't know if you've ever read Stephanie Howell's blog. She's an American living temporarily in Italy with her children, and she's done quite a lot of city exploring in the past two or three years and has been to some really beautiful places in Europe. CJ xx

  2. Loved hearing all about your London trip over the past few posts

  3. It sounds like a wonderful trip. Love the sound of all the different foods. I took my three kids on their first city holiday this year to your town of Glasgow! It was a fabulous time and has made me think I will do more cities with them. bilbao is my suggestion for another city

  4. It all sounds amazing I would love to see the shoe exhibition, the fabric shops would be a great pastime but not keen on the prices. Visiting a German Christmas market is always a good one, particularly if you go on the ferry which is an adventure in itself. If you go to a big one there are always some great museums to visit. Have a great week settling back into normality and routine.

  5. Sounds like a wonderful city break. I have always wanted to go to Prague but not sure it is something I would do with children in tow......I think Liverpool would be my first choice there is lots I want ovsee there but never have time on a day trip ;). Love the photos of the graffiti art you found. Hope you get back to normality soon and have a good week :)

  6. We've only ever taken the girls for day trips to York and Oxford. They don't mind us taking them to museums and galleries as long as they can run around and we don't stay for too long. I think your London trip was excellent. We'd have gone to the same places too-- the Tate, etc. because they're great and also because they're free. The London Eye and other touristy 'must-sees' are so expensive. I'll have to look into Air B&B now, it really sounds like a much better option than staying at a hotel. Have a great week! X

  7. I'm glad you all had such a great holiday together. We visited Bath for a few hours and would love to go back - it seems like a very interesting place.

  8. I loved your posts on this trip! My dream is to visit London someday soon and this makes me want to even more :-)

  9. Hey Christina,
    We have enjoyed mini breaks to London with Sam and Alf. In the days that you could get really good deals from Travelodge. We split up too. It worked very well for us. And we ate an ice crew outside Buckingham Palace that was cheaper than anything in St Ives. Your holiday sounds fun packed, and catered for everyone's taste. Not an easy accomplishment. I love all the pictures of street art too.
    Leanne xx

  10. love how important the food is in your family! x

  11. Well that sounds about perfect for everyone. I ove all the street art, so glad you had a wonderful trip.

  12. It all sounds wonderful. I'm really glad you had a nice time. I love to have city vacations as a couple and as a family. We live in a city ourselves, which has much to enjoy, but seeing a new city and especially one with a really bustling feel, is a lot of fun for us.

  13. Love London, you're never short of things to do. We're fortunate enough to live only 30 mins away and my husband's office is just up by Borough Market. Glad you had a lovely time. Have a great week. Jane xx

  14. It sounds like you all had a wonderful time. It's only recently that I've heard about Air B&B, it sounds a great alternative to a hotel so it's good to hear someone else recommending it too. We took our two to London when they were quite young, I definitely think we walked them too much over the time we were there, the walking was their overall lasting memory even though we visited museums, took in sights, visited Hamleys and saw a couple of shows. As for your next city break, I don't think you can go far wrong with York, there's lots to do there and something for everyone.

  15. We keep talking about a city break in London. My parents live in Essex so the perfect excuse to visit the grandparents too! It sounds like a wonderful break - I love all the foods you tried! Hopefully I'm back now - I've been reading but barely commenting! Have a great week - we're in half term adventures next week! Xx

  16. Loved seeing London through you family's experience. We haven't done Air B&B but our university student daughter has, in Toronto, and had a great time. Cities we've explored as a family: Oslo (youth hostel family room) - we all loved the Fram, viking ships, riding the trams and the Holmenkollen ski jump; London (various including staying with friends and in hotels) - food has always been a big hit!; Turin (hotel) - at a music event for most of it but walking through the city and "the pizza slices from the window in the wall on via Po"; Los Angeles (house exchange) - Autrey Museum of Western Heritage, Panda Panda Chinese food, Zuma beach, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and playing with the children next door in their pool and helping pick their grapefruit and bottling it. But not Disneyland, which they hated (and I must admit I have never been so glad to leave a place in my life).

  17. Sounds like a wonderful trip Christina, and I like that you did things your own way too. We took our boys to London in 2013 and they loved it. Like you, we sometimes 'divide and conquer', a parent taking a boy each to do something, as their interests are so different. However, I also agree that it is important not to tailor the whole experience round their needs to the exclusion of everything else. Learning to tolerate a bit of boredom whilst someone else has a turn of doing something they are interested in is really important. I remember long afternoons I found very boring on holiday whilst Mum and Dad lingered over lunch, or wanted to look in a particular shop for what felt like hours. I think that's when I learned always to have a book with me, a habit I have kept until this day! x


Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment, I love to hear from you, I really do. I sometimes reply by email but I am not all that reliable... Christina xx