After nearly a year here we finally made it in to London. We had been a few years back when visiting friends in Windsor but this was our first time since living here.
Why now, you ask? This past week was the February half-term. The schools in the UK are more or less on the same schedules. There are 3 terms throughout the year. Big breaks are between the terms (Christmas and Easter) and one-week breaks are at the "half term" (October, February, June). Summers are just 6-7 weeks. It makes for some mass holidays and we usually head out of the UK. But, since it is February we didn't feel like using a whole week so we made a nice long weekend (Thursday - Sunday) in London. The weather was pretty decent for the time of year (high 40's, maybe 50) with only one day of light rain.
We figure to be back, so we didn't try to do it all (not that we could). Here were the top wishes for the group:
Steve: Westminster Abbey and British Museum
Kuk: good theater and good food
Nicole: London Eye, Covent Gardens and a fun museum
Alex: Hamley's (absolutely enormous toy store)
[We saw the Tower of London and Windsor Castle on our previous trip.]
We didn't hit 100% but we did pretty well. As usual, I'll talk around the photos. Enjoy.
Thursday (Day 1)
Arrival in St Pancras train station. Five months until the Summer Olympics.
link). There is all sorts of construction in the square making it a little challenging to find but you can get up to half off the ticket price by walking up on the same day and seeing what's been returned or unsold. Works well if you are flexible, and we were. We chose Billy Elliot. At £45pp, still not cheap but we did save a total of £80 ($125 or so). More on Billy later.
Natural History Museum. Side view shown here. I thought this would be a good family attraction to ease into and not as dry/historical as the others on my list.
huge. I'm not sure if it is possible to see most of it in a day or not, but certainly not with these crowds. We chose to do the Earth side and then the animal side. Bugs and plants will have to wait until another day. Old one-eye here was interesting.
Neat escalator "to the world"
Alex and his Atlas impersonation
cool part of the building to wait in, at least
all of these folks are queuing with us amongst this big plant-eating dinosaur (you could pay £3 to light it up -- no one did)
and now some of the dinosaurs . . .
I always liked the stegosaurus. I still remember the plastic, multicolored set I had as a kid. I think they've changed half the names since then. We've kicked out a planet too for that matter. Feeling old.
This guy was a very large (life size?) robot (and the bottleneck for the queue). Impressive though.
moving to the mammal area ... one very large blue whale (took up the whole room)
Alex and the whale
they had some rather unique animals -- I liked the platypus
Les Miserables a few years ago and that was much better, I thought. Perhaps I like the livelier music over the dance. It was still a good night out though. Quite a first day!
Friday (Day 2)
London Walks. They offer a zillion 2-hr walks with different themes across the city for the very reasonable price of £8 per adult (typically). For Friday, I chose the Royal London and Westminster Abbey walk.
Interesting statue (Diana of the Treetops) outside the Green Park Tube station (while waiting for the tour to start)
Buckingham Palace. All of those people are waiting for the Changing of the Guard.
Here are the new guards coming out to meet the old guard.
there they go
next up -- Westminster Abbey
another pilfered internal shot
Westminster is famous for its tombs and memorials. Here is the one for the Unknown Warrior (WW I).
Queen Elizabeth I (cast was made immediately upon her death). Alex enjoyed hearing about her hideous black teeth (live a long time and had a sweet tooth).
Sir Isaac Newton
Tour's over and we are back outside and off to the London Eye. Big Ben and Parliament are ahead. Note: here's the "famous" clip in European Vacation of Chevy Chase stuck on the roundabout (Look kids, there's Big Ben and Parliament).
Took this while on the Westminster Bridge. The Eye goes so slowly, it hardly looks like it is moving. We got our tickets with minimal wait and had about 20-30 minutes or so before getting on (not bad). As you can see, it wasn't a sunny day, but at least it wasn't raining. Note for folks visiting, you can get a 2-for-1 voucher for the Eye with a valid train ticket.
Golden Jubilee Bridge and the Charing Cross Rail Station (I think the stations all look pretty cool).
St. Paul's Cathedral through the haze.
Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey
County Hall along the river. People, people, everywhere.
Next up: shopping. We took the Tube to Oxford Circus and walked down Regent Street. People everywhere there.
This one always gets a double take from the dyslexic crowd (French Connection UK). They play off of that as well.
My purchase was this classic 80's icon Pac-Man stress ball. £3. :-)
We were somewhat close to Chinatown and Kuk was hoping to find the restaurant we tried a few years ago. We thought we remembered the general area and two key facts. One, it was green (check) . . .
. . . two, it had hanging birds in the window (check). The Golden Dragon fit the bill so in we went. I checked when I got home (given my anal retentive nature of logging all my receipts in Quicken) and confirmed that it was the same place. Alas, it didn't live up to the memories unfortunately (that, and we couldn't remember what we ordered so it could have been on us).
Saturday (Day 3)
We started the day off by going back to TKTS to see what show tickets we could get. I was expecting a long line but there wasn't one so we could fit something in in the morning. St. Paul's Cathedral was at the top of the backup list but unfortunately that meant cutting out Covent Garden (sorry Nicole -- next time).
We made it to St. Paul's right at 10 and were able to catch the regent-led tour.
Okay, I didn't run up the adjacent building to get this one. Took it off the web instead.
Special thinking seat for the Dean of the Cathedral . . . or Alex.
Dome shot (from the web). The top was closed for maintenance but we did make it up to the mezzanine level called the Whisper's Gallery. We tried whispering across with some limited success.
The cathedral dates back many years, but most of what you see is Christopher Wren's design from the late 1600's. More info at the wiki page. We enjoyed our tour (free, though admission was not--another 2for1 option though).
From the wiki page: The Temple Church is a late-12th-century church in London located between Fleet Street and the River Thames, built for and by the Knights Templar as their English headquarters. In modern times, two Inns of Court (Inner Temple and Middle Temple) both use the church. It is famous for its effigy tombs and for being a round church. It was heavily damaged during the Second World War but has been largely restored. The area around the Temple Church is known as the Temple and nearby is Temple Bar and Temple tube station.
neat dragon along Fleet Street (I think)
Belgo (a chain, but not bad). Beer, mussels, and frites (fries). We've had enough pubs and we aren't big fish-n-chips fans so this worked well. I will say that the Belgian restaurant in Indy (Brugge Brasserie) is our favorite though (even better than what I tried in Belgium!). We'll see if we can beat that on our next trip though.
tour (at the British Museum). Not much a of a walk, but a good tour. The place was absolutely mobbed and it was good to have someone show us the highlights. Lots of additional information on the wiki page.
The interior courtyard was open until 2000 (I think) but now has this very interesting covering.
large Ramesses II statue
This Assyrian 5-legged horse/god was interesting
some interesting lion hunt carvings (pre-Greek) -- forced (enclosed) hunt to make the leader feel powerful
famous lioness carving -- very emotive
We've graduated to the Greeks. These actually came from the Parthenon after it was blown up in 1687. There's some debate about whether the museum collectors saved it for the greater good or they exercised a nice five-finger discount (though it probably took quite a few more fingers). In truth, it was removed with permission but the permission came from the controlling Turks (not Greeks) in the early 1800's.
Christian vandalism. Have to make way for the new god.
Many other mummies, including this clearly female one.
the actual Rosetta Stone (encased) -- fascinating
Stomp. Kuk and I actually saw them sans kids in Indy. They updated the show so it was different enough plus the fact that we got to take the kids this time. We scored 5th row seats at a discount at TKTS and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a really good family show -- lively and funny. Highly recommended for the families out there (but I'm sure there are many good options). I think it was around £32pp (again, not cheap, but at least cheaper).
Day 4 (Sunday) -- time to return home
Platform 9 3/4 of Harry Potter Hogwart's Express fame. From the website:
Interestingly, platforms 9 and 10 at Kings Cross Station are not adjacent to one another, so they don't have an adjoining wall separating them, instead it’s the railway line separating them. When J K Rowling was quizzed about why she choose platform 9 and 10 in Kings Cross Station, she said that she was thinking of Euston Station instead and mixed them up. However, Euston Station has the same problem, and railway track between the two platforms.
To overcome the numbering problem, platforms 4 & 5 were renumbered in Kings Cross Station during shooting of Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets.
They've had to move it around the station a few times now and it seemed a little silly where it was, but oh well. Neat to see.
Thanks for reading -- probably a little too much info. Even so, we barely scratched the surface and we look forward to heading back sometime.