Sunday, September 8, 2019

2019 Global Tour - Part 3 - The United Kingdom by plane and train, but mostly by foot

Day 11 continued - Travel Day

September 7, 2019

We spent most of today in airports.  Due to a schedule change a couple months ago, our direct two hour flight to Edinburgh became an all day airport tour.  We spent a couple hours at Copenhagen airport after exiting the ship, then flew a couple hours to Dublin, spent 5 hours there, then finally made about a 1 hour flight (30 minutes late by the way), to Edinburgh, Scotland!  We were basically in transit for over 12 hours.  The kids did really well and it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected.  We had tried really hard to rebook these flights to something better, but there just weren't better option available.

There really wasn't anything much better at all or I would have considered it even at a much higher price. There was absolutely nothing direct.  The much higher price options had close connections and would only have arrived a couple hours earlier at best.

Long travel day!



We rented another Airbnb for this part of our trip.  This one is more of a professional apartment rental place, which we like better.  It's through a place called Edinburgh Pearl Lettings in case anybody ever needs a good place to stay.  The apartment is nice.  It's plenty of room for the 7 of us.  The location isn't that close to the attractions, but it is close to restaurants and groceries.  If we had figured out the bus system, it would probably be pretty easy to get to the main areas.

I was a little nervous about this arrival time and obtaining the key to the apartment before the office closed at 10 pm even before our flight was delayed. Thankfully we didn't have to go through immigration or customs. We called the place as we left, conveniently found transportation, and we were off. Marc looked like he was engaged in some illegal transaction when the van pulled up to a dark corner, he got out, and was given a paper and a key, then got in and drove away.  

The apartment is great! Spotless, nice decor, and has the best washer and dryer that we've come upon so far in Europe.  Mainly because it is in English and I don't have to try to translate the hieroglyphics.



Day 12 - Edinburgh - Castle, Camera Obscura, The Royal Mile

It was a late night, but we needed to get an early start to avoid crowds, so I tempted the kids with the novelty of tea and biscuits before we set off. (I picked up the Digestives (biscuits or cookies if you still haven't got the gist) at the airport in preparation and counted on the apartment having a stash of tea for us which they did. This is the first apartment we've rented that actually had no coffee maker. They had a canister of instant coffee. I couldn't even type that without gagging a little. The tea was good though and I'm impressed with how quickly the electric tea kettles brings water to a boil.

We walked to Edinburgh Castle this morning.  It was a pretty long walk, but we did alright.  We saw a movie or TV show filming a stunt along our way.  We didn't actually see the stunt, so it wasn't that exciting.  I looked it up and they are filming Fast & Furious 9 here.

It was a little over a mile to the old town where the castle is, but the hills and uneven stone surfaces make it tougher than it sounds. I can't quite grasp the layout of this city. As we walk around it seems like it's constantly going up and down like it's a bunch of hills and valleys but I don't think that's the case. Part of it is that they build some really tall buildings right up against streets on bridges. So they look like three or four story buildings from the street side, and many more stories when viewed from behind. 

Zoe by a fake cannon with a nice view
Edinburgh Castle is very cool from a distance.  It was built on this huge rock in the 12th century.  They made it sound like it was easy to defend, but it changed sides several times, so I guess it wasn't that hard to defeat.  I was a little disappointed once we got inside the castle.  I was expecting this well preserved set of buildings with furnishings from various times at the castle and a real look into life within the castle.  Unfortunately, it just isn't that.  The castle has been apparently been used for many things over the years, including still being home to some military barracks.  Plus, many of the buildings were destroyed off and on by fighting.  There were even cars driving in part of the castle!  So, in the end, there were some interesting things to see, but I have no idea what it was really like to live there.
View of the city over the castle wall
Zach by a real cannon

Prisoners of War rooms staged for the period

Some of the highlights of the castle were the prison cells, the royal apartments, and the Scottish crown jewels Which were lost for 110 years and recovered in perfect condition.  The prison cells did a good job of explaining the life of prisoners in the castle and even providing some real life examples of prisoners who were kept there and why they were there.


The royal apartments showed the room where King James VI was born and told the lineage of Mary, Queen of the Scots.  I had just recently read a book partially about her, so that was interesting.  And the crown jewels were sort of interesting as well.  There is a crown, a sword (and scabbard) and the Stone of Destiny.  I wasn't listening to the audio tour at that time, so I didn't know what the Stone of Destiny was or why this chunk of rock was behind glass with the crown and sword.  I've looked it up now and still don't really understand it.  It says it's a ancient symbol of Scotland's monarchy, but it's origins are unknown.  It is used in all coronation ceremonies.  It was stolen in 1296 by King Edward I of England and then stolen back by four students from Scotland on Christmas Day, 1950!  They only got the stone part of the way however (to an abbey 500 miles away).  It didn't return to Scotland until 1996.

No pictures can be taken in the room with the Crown Jewels. The queue to see them gives some information on the walls to prepare you with some history before you see them. 


Ploughman's Lunch
We spent the rest of the day touring the Old Town area.  We found lunch at a very cool little restaurant near the castle.  It's called Ensign Ewart Pub.  It was really good - especially the Sticky Toffee Pudding!  It was so fun to have lunch in a pub! It was smaller than I had imagined and the food was better than the typical British reputation. 

For some reason, Marc likes to drink expensive little bottles of Coke in Europe. Here is the smallest bottle yet....
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Leading down the hill from Edinburgh Castle is street called The Royal Mile.  It currently consists of lots of tourist shops and restaurants, plus I assume apartments above those shops.  There are also some old churches and cathedrals, but even some of the biggest of these have been re purposed into other things.  One old church (not on the Royal Mile) was even turned into a casino.  It's kind of amazing that they took these amazing old buildings and just turned them into any old thing.  I guess as a tourist, who comes from a country that hasn't even existed for as long as some of these buildings have, I can't really understand why more of that history hasn't been preserved.


So anyway, after lunch, Kyrie went shopping down The Royal Mile while I took the kids to Camera Obscura.  They had been begging to go and I basically love all tourist traps. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that it has had a very cool piece of history inside.  The camera obscura is actually this old contraption that they put in this building in the mid 1800's.  It consists of a small mirror on the top of the 5 story building, a couple lenses which I think magnify the image, and a handle that allows the mirror to be turned.  The staff there does a 10 minute show which demonstrates how the device can be moved around to display the surrounding area onto a wooden table in a darkened room.  It was actually very cool.  It was basically like a video camera from the 1800's!  It was quite a good show with plenty of humor for the kids.

The rest of the attraction was a variety of optical illusions from long ago to today.  Some of our favorites were the mirror maze, the room that makes people look bigger or smaller than they actually are, and the infinity tunnel.  We had a lot of fun.


We then strolled down the Royal Mile until we caught up with Kyrie at the end by Holyroodhouse.  

We decided to try an afternoon tea.  Everyone liked picking their cake to go with their tea.  We kind of felt like a bull in a china shop though with all seven of us trying to fit into this tiny tea place that had like seven very small tables. 

Prior to this, my only tea experiences have been more formal and pricey. It was so cool to go into this tea room and just have cream tea (tea and a scone with clotted cream and jam) for a reasonable cost. The kids LOVED choosing a cake or shortbread from the stationary cart, Zach is still talking about his carrot cake there which he wouldn't trade a bite of because, "it's just too good."

Just a cool looking book store- half underground that we often passed
We went back to the apartment after that and after a full day of walking, most of the kids really didn't want to go out for dinner.  Kyrie was trying to find Sunday Roast which I guess is something they do in the UK in pubs only on Sunday, so she and Jacob went out to try to find that.  I took the other kids to a grocery store to try to find something for dinner, but that wasn't really working out so we found a little take out place to get some pasta and burgers and took it back to our apartment.  Kyrie and Jacob didn't ever find a place close enough with Sunday Roast, but I think they had a pretty good dinner.


Day 13 - Edinburgh City Sightseeing Bus and Scotland Museum

We were definitely tired of walking after yesterday, so today we did the hop on hop off bus.  Unfortunately we still had to walk a mile to get to that!  It was also raining this morning so that didn't make things any better.
This is one of the areas of movie filming 

The bus ride was good.  We did one full lap on it, which took about 75 minutes and then stayed on for a few more stops until we got back to a place that looked good for lunch. The tour had plenty of information.  We learned a little about the castle and about Mary, Queen of Scots, and about how the cross streets to the royal mile are actually bridges built about 4 or 5 stories above the streets below.  This also makes it pretty hard to follow a map, which I found out later in the day!  We also passed through Holyrood Palace which is where the queen lives when she visits Scotland.

But the most interesting and/or disturbing thing we learned about were the body snatchers.  Apparently, the nearby medical school really needed human cadavers for dissection.  At this time, people had only recently begun studying human anatomy.  They instead had been using dissected pigs.  They law stated that they could only use the bodies of executed criminals.  Well, apparently there weren't enough of those, so people started stealing bodies from the cemetery and selling them to the school.  It got so bad that some cemeteries even installed watchtowers to guard the bodies.  Of course, the body snatchers paid much more than the guards were paid, so that wasn't very effective.  If that weren't bad enough, two enterprising young men named Burke and Hare decided that digging up the bodies was too much effort, so they just started killing people and selling their bodies instead!  Ironically, once they were caught, Burke was executed and his body given to the school where his skeleton remains today.

Well, that was unpleasant.

We had lunch in a pub in the Grassmarket neighborhood before walking to the Scotland Museum. 

Sticky Toffee Pudding and Fudge Cake

This is where I had trouble with the map.    It looked like we just had to walk a couple blocks and then take a right.  As we were taking a picture of the nice arch we were passing under, it occurred to me that way up there was the road we were supposed to turn right on.  And of course there were no stairs right there, so we had to continue on for a while before finding a way up to that level and then were able to walk back to the museum.

The Scotland Museum is kind of hard to describe because it seems to have a little bit of everything.  The kids really liked the science areas because there was a lot of hands on stuff to do.  They tried lifting themselves with different pulleys, they created energy in a treadmill, and they saw Dolly, the first successfully cloned sheep.    

I was particular intrigued by a geology display that showed how over many hundreds of millions of years, Scotland actually moved from near the South Pole to where it is today - and it wasn't even connected to England at that time.  Now, I know there are people who have studied this their whole lives and they must know better than me, but come on!  How can this possibly be true?  Scotland just kind of floated around the Earth for millions of years before being smashed into England?  I don't know about that!

Eventually, after spending a pretty good amount of time at the museum, we decided that we didn't have much time left to see Edinburgh so we left the museum to head over to a tour that we wanted to take called The Real Mary Kings Close which is on the Royal Mile.  However, when we got back to the Royal Mile, we realized that the Fast and Furious crews had blocked off the entire street leading to where we needed to go.

It would have been a long walk to get around and some of us were getting a little cranky, so we just decided to head back to the apartment instead.    
The film crew

We have seen a lot of funny bathroom signs on this trip!

Zach appreciates a good plate of spaghetti (as long as it's EXACTLY the way he likes it!)
We had a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant near our apartment called Vittoria's and then called it a night.

Tomorrow we leave Scotland to continue on to England.  Obviously, we only got to see a small bit of Scotland, but it was very nice and someday I'd like to return to explore a bit and see the highlands.  Edinburgh was very interesting.  The terrain was a bit challenging for our little group especially with all of the construction and filming going on.  The Old Town section of Edinburgh is in a valley surrounded by a bit of a hill which our directions always made us go around, but probably there is a way to walk over which would have been easier and quicker.  It felt very crowded in most places - mostly because we are always herding a pack of kids trying to keep everyone together and away from the traffic.

Day 14 - York - Jorvik, The Shambles, and York Minster


We took a train from Edinburgh to York which took about 2 and a half hours.  I enjoyed seeing the scenery go by.  We traveled along the ocean for a good part of the way and we saw lots of old churches and a couple of other interesting buildings along the way.

I really liked this train ride too! It was so easy traveling from a train station compared to airports and it was comfortable and nice to sit together with a table too. We reserved seats three months in advance when they first came down to reasonable prices to ensure good seats too. The scenery was very enjoyable, and I relaxed and listened to Rick Steves' audio guides to London on our way- once I gave up trying to take pictures of the scenery from a moving train that is!

We walked to our hotel from the train station.  It wasn't that long of a walk, but with all of our luggage in tow it took us a while.  It was clear across town, but it is a relatively small town. Narrow sidewalks and cobblestones added to the challenge as usual in Europe. My biggest challenge though was not having a free hand to take pictures, since I had luggage in one hand and Zach's hand in the other. 

We are staying at the Hilton while in York and it feels like quite a luxury (even though the apartments have been nice.) It's just nice to have a place where you don't have to worry about how you're going to pickup the key and what the place is going to really be like.  Plus, the Hilton is right by everything we would want to see - it's actually right across the street from a castle!    
view from our hotel room
The guy who checked us in was very helpful and was from Rome.  He kindly and genuinely offered that we contact him if we ever go there so that he could give us tips.  This is the only way we will find his card again.
Rather than a small coffee machine common in the US, we found this tea kettle, tea, and even biscuits in our room

After checking in and dropping off our bags, we had lunch at a tea place which worked out perfectly since all of the kids wanted to have afternoon tea again.  So, we added a few sandwiches to our tea order to make it a lunch and everyone was happy.

Max had a "jacket potato" with beans

Ella standing over the actual archaeological dig.
Then we headed to Jorvik, which is a viking museum.  Apparently for hundreds of years the vikings lived where York stands today.  Archaeological digs have dug up a lot of viking artifacts and many of them are on display here.  They also have a ride here that basically takes you through a recreation of what they think the viking town was like here based on the things they have discovered.  It was informative and kept the kids interested.  

Making coins
Next we explored the area a bit and came to an area called The Shambles.  This is a narrow street where long ago all the butchers had setup shop.  It is the type of street that you picture when you think of an old English village which overhanging timber framed buildings all smooshed together and kind of lopsided.  It's basically like stepping into Diagon Alley from Harry Potter except with a bunch of gift shops (some that are Harry Potter themed) instead of wand shops and candy stores.  

Ruins of an ancient Roman bath.  There is a little museum here under a pub, but it only takes cash and we didn't have any pounds.

Marc loved the crooked buildings

We eventually wandered all the way to the Minster which is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe.  The inside was nice, but not awe inspiring like some of the other ones we saw in Barcelona and Paris during our other Europe trip.


Exploration kits that they let the kids use at the Minster

Zach is measuring the floor with a ruler from his kit.
 But, what did make this very unique was the museum under the cathedral.  We ended up spending a lot of time down there and learned quite a bit about the structure and it's history.  There has been a church on that spot since the early seventh century.  At that time Romans controlled the area.  Much of the churches history was discovered in the late 1900's when restoration work was required on the foundations of the building to keep it from collapsing.  During that time they uncovered portions of the original Roman fort, and the original foundations for the Norman cathedral built there in the eleventh century.


One of the artifacts in the museum is a book that was 1000 years old that the church still uses - amazing!  The book is so carefully drawn, that the letters appear like they must have been printed, but I don't think printing presses were invented until much later.


Many of the walls are still standing around York.  You can walk almost entirely around the perimeter on the walls.  There are many cool gates still in excellent condition.


One of the gates
After exploring a portion of the walls, we had dinner at a nearby pub. I took pictures of our food both to document how much our teenagers eat, and also to remember to comment how much I've enjoyed the food in the UK so far contrary to British stereotypes. I had a hot beef sandwich which tasted even better than it looks.


Day 15 - York continued - Castle and museum, then on to London

We really liked this hotel. Not only are the people so friendly and helpful and the location good for us, they included breakfast was amazing. Everything was fresh, high quality, and whole foods. Freshly squeezed juices, the most awesome automatic espresso/cappuccino/latte machine ever, freshly baked and sliced breads for toast, eggs made to order, and a good hot selection, etc., etc.

This machine is going on my wish list for our kitchen remodel. Not really joking.

We saved the Castle for today because it was right across the street and we knew we wouldn't have a lot of time to explore before we needed to collect our luggage and leave to catch the train to London.

It was very fortunate timing that it just finished raining as we finished breakfast.

Next to the Castle itself is the York Castle Museum which is a little confusing because it doesn't seem to actually have much to do with the castle except that it sits where the bailey (wooden palisade area) of the castle once stood.  However, the museum was very interesting in it's own ways and I'm glad we visited it.  They had recreations of rooms from houses from various times in history.  They also had a recreation of an old Victorian street which included shop keepers to tell more about life at that time (the kids were interested in the odd candies that were once sold.)


There was also a very large section devoted to World War I.  We skimmed through the areas about the 60's and the prison which the building was once used for.

Playing Pong

Playing with hand grenades
Then we climbed stairs up the large hill that led to Cliffords Tower which is all that remains of the original castle.  It was a very small castle, but it was sort of interesting to climb up it and to check it out.  For some reason they put a gift shop right in the middle of the castle which seems completely absurd and out of place to me.  I wouldn't say that this castle was worth the price of admission.

At the top of Cliffords Tower

View from top of the castle across the street to our hotel, a nearby church, and the huge York Monster across town


We had an hour to explore the nearby shopping center. Primark had some super cute Disney pajamas, but we nether needed them nor had room in our luggage for them! 

York Station
At this point it was time to collect our luggage and get back to the train station.


The money in England is like a work of art. Part of it is transparent.
The train ride to London was pleasant, but it was a challenge once we arrived in London.  We needed to get something called an Oyster Card so that we could use the subway.  We knew from our research that we needed to get a discounted version for the kids, but nobody that worked at the station seemed to know what we were talking about.  Finally, after walking around the place way too long, we found the Visitor's Center which knew exactly what we needed and took care of it for us.  Then we took the tube to Paddington Station and made our way to our first stop which was to pick up the key to our apartment.  This was quite a challenge.  It was only a half mile away, but it was super crowded along sort of narrow sidewalks and we never quite know where we are going.  With our colored suitcases we are like a long caterpillar walking down the street and then that caterpillar squishes all together at every stoplight.     Anyway, we made it to the key pickup and then another half mile to the actual apartment.  By then we were wiped out and happy to be "home".



Day 16 - London - Tower of London, Thames Boat Tour, Shrek's Adventure

The tube station looks empty here, but it wsa NOT!
Well, we certainly have been packing a lot into these days!  We come back pretty well exhausted every night, but everybody's been eager to see what comes next each morning.  So I guess we're doing all right so far!

VERY crowded subway
Today's main attraction was the Tower of London which was pretty awesome.

This was the castle I've been waiting for - mostly.  First of all, until yesterday when I was reviewing the plans for today, I didn't even know that the Tower of London was a castle.  I thought it was just some small fortress where they kept the crown jewels.  Nope, this is a full fledged castle.  They started building it in 1066 and kept adding to it over the years.


I assume this is the Queen's residence within the tower
It stopped being used as a royal residence during the 16th century and was then mostly used as a prison and for military use.    However, it is still officially a royal residence,    According to our Yeoman tour guide - Spike - Prince Charles will spend the night in the castle before leaving along with the Crown Jewels for his coronation.  The tour was entertaining and informative.



Traitor's Gate

Another thing we learned about the castle was that they kept a number of wild animals in it's walls - and they weren't very good at it.  Oftentimes, various countries would gift a animal that was native to their country to the monarch.  These animals were kept in the castle and put on display.  However, they usually didn't know how to care for these animals and they sometimes escaped.  Eventually, the remaining animals were given to the London Zoo.      

It is said that if the six ravens ever leave the Tower of London, it will fall
The crown jewels were very shiny and sparkly as you might expect.  The size of some of the jewels were remarkable.  However, the most interesting thing to me and the kids were the coronation dishes.  They have an extensive collection of elaborate salt holders.  Not sure what their official name is, but these are dishes made of gold that are only for holding salt.  They don't let you take pictures in there, so here is a link to the most elaborate one (but there are many more on display) - Salt of the State  Other than that, I think the jewels and crowns are pretty much like what you would expect, but it was still interesting to see them.
Unfortunately, like all of the castles we have seen so far, there has been little information about what it was like to live there (unless you were a prisoner).  I would really like to see a recreation of the rooms that the royal family would have actually lived in and also see what some of the staff quarters were like.  

The Beefeaters have residences within the Tower

Near the Tower of London is the Tower Bridge which is very elaborate.

We took a boat tour along the Thames River in the afternoon.  It was a good tour and identified a number of the buildings that you can see in the skyline.  I am really impressed by the architecture of the newer buildings in London.  They all have unique shapes, but are made of similar materials so they compliment each other.  There is a lot of glass on all of them.

Tower of London

A gift from Egypt. The sphinx guarding the obilisk were placed backwards (facing it) and never changed
This apparently is the London Bridge, not to be confused with the iconic Tower Bridge

Big Ben is the bell within Elizabeth Tower currently under construction 


We got off the boat tour near the London Eye (big Ferris wheel kind of thing) and went to Shrek's Adventure.  This is a walk through attraction based on the Shrek movies.  It combines special effects with live actors and a short ride.  It takes about an hour and is way overpriced, but it is fun and we had a good time.   It can be combined with some other attractions to make it more reasonable, but we were only interested in that one.


Zen Zach

We spent a lot of time on the subway today.  We're kind of tired of walking up and down all of those stairs, but it sure beats walking around all of London.

Our last stop today was Harrod's department store.  It is the largest department store in Europe and was first built in the 1800's.  It has a very elaborate escalator room that has an Egyptian theme.  We only saw a small portion of the store - mostly the toy department.


I was super impressed with Harrods! It's GRAND! Next time I need a $6000 pen, I'm totally going to buy it here. I wandered around a bit while Marc and the kids spent most of the time in the many rooms of the toy department. The picture below is a giant room for perfume with dozens of smartly dressed employees ready to help you. There were more employees than customers in this room the two times I walked through. I can't begin to explain this store, but I highly recommend a visit to experience this for yourself. Macy's in New York City is like a small town Walmart compared to this.

Outside our apartment
Our apartment is excellent - I'd say it's the best Airbnb type of place we've stayed at.  It is a 3 story townhouse above a supermarket.  It's on Queensway street, which is loaded with restaurants.  The person who owns this place has done a great job of posting notes around the house with instructions and making sure we have everything we need for a great stay.  It's very close to at least one subway station. And it has a decent washer and dryer and air conditioning units which were appreciated during our stay.

Day 17 - London continued - Buckingham Palace, Churchill War Rooms, Queens Gallery, Hamley's

It was another hot, sunny day in London.  I assume it's always this way.  


We are getting a little stressed out by the crowds in London.  Especially in and around the subway.  It's hard getting everyone through the turnstile, up and down the stairs and make sure everyone gets on and off the trains with a million people around us and all of them in a hurry to get somewhere.

For a couple months each summer, they open Buckingham Palace to visitors.

Not Chicago's Buckingham Fountain

 I assume it's because the royal family is on holiday somewhere else - according to the flag, they weren't there today.  They call it the State Room tour.  We got to see various drawing rooms, the throne room, some ballrooms and dining rooms and I think maybe just part of the gardens.  Only the public areas of the palace were toured, not the private residence of course.


It was an audio tour.  I listened to the "family" tour which was narrated by the queen's dog.  It was a fun tour and provided plenty of facts about the palace itself and Queen Elizabeth as well as Queen Victoria (who was the first monarch to use Buckingham Palace as her residence). 

The palace was definitely nice.  It has very elaborate furniture and gifts from around the world as you might expect.  The rooms were very large with high ceilings - many with fancy wallpaper.  I could picture what life was like in those rooms.  I was kind of surprised that it wasn't a bit grander though.  I imagined something a little more "royal".  I'm not even quite sure what was missing, but in a way it seemed sort of ordinary.  I was especially surprised by the throne room which to me looked more like a couple of cushy chairs instead of thrones.  I don't know, probably if there weren't so many people in there, the rooms would have looked a lot grander.  They definitely had fancy chandeliers and other features.  Pictures weren't allowed on the tour, which is probably good because it would take a lot longer if you had to wait for everyone to get their pictures.

Her Royal Majesty's Ice Cream Shop

Blackberry and Clotted Cream Ice Cream
Her Royal Majesty's Backyard

We had lunch nearby at a pub called Bag O' Nails.   The food and atmosphere were good, but the menu looked suspiciously like menus at other "authentic" pubs around the area - I'm just saying...

Bomb hanging over entrance to the museum 
Next we went to the Churchill War Rooms.  This was a very informative tour in a rather small space.  The museum is in the underground bunker where Winston Churchill led the war efforts of World War II.

It was another audio tour and we were a bit toured out by then, so we kind of skimmed through it.  
On a different day I would probably have spent more time there and gotten more out of it.  As it was though we still found it interesting.

We bought The London Pass with a discount online which includes all of these experiences (except Shrek and Buckingham Palace) that we did in London. We carefully weighed rather it would be worth it for us, and decided upon it. It was nice to not feel like we wasted our money spending less time in some places. I actually think we spent plenty of time here and the kids did great.

Zach observing a baby swan

We took the kids to the park across the street  after that for some much needed running  around.

I began to notice that all types of people in London spend time in parks- - business people, students, families, couples 

 It was a good chance for the kids to let off some steam.

Especially because next we were going to the Queen's Gallery which is an art gallery.

I doubt we would have even went here except that we have the London Pass and we were in the area.  The gallery apparently has temporary exhibits.  Right now it's all about Leonardo Da Vinci.  They have a large number of his drawings on display and an audio tour to go with it.

Next we went to Hamley's which the kids enjoyed much more than Leonardo's drawings. It's a giant toy store.

I think it was six stories altogether and the kids thoroughly explored all of them.  They really liked playing with the remote control cars and checking out the various LEGO sets.     

We walked around the area for a bit until we decided we wanted pasta for dinner and then turned a corner and saw Spaghetti House.  It was perfect timing - especially because our feet needed a rest!  It was a good dinner and then we were ready to brave the crowds on the subway again.

I would also like to tell the city of London to get more garbage cans!  We have had the hardest time finding garbage cans around the city.  Around Buckingham Palace they apparently won't allow garbage cans because they consider it a security risk, but even most other places it's really hard to find any place to get rid of your garbage and the few that I did see were overflowing.

I started threatening the kids if they were misbehaving with having to massage my feet. Unfortunately, the threat mostly worked.

Day 18 - Big Bus, Westminster Abbey, British Museum, Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens

On our last day in London we went on the Big Bus hop on/hop off tour.

It consists of four different routes through the city.  We went on parts of three of them throughout the day.

We had very mixed experiences - sometimes it was great, but other times it was pretty awful.  The biggest problem was that the recorded guide was very minimal.  The bus went quite far without any narration at all even though we passed plenty of things that would have been interesting to hear about.  On one of the routes I think the driver didn't have the narration on at all because it only mentioned the stops.  That was also the time that the bus went in a complete circle 2 times before continuing on the route.  The tour was much better when there was a live guide on board, but it was unclear what their system was for that.  Usually, it was just the recorded tour, but once in a while they had an actual person.  Anyway, it was useful for riding around and seeing different parts of London, but not very informative.

I loved how many buildings had tons of plants on them
Upscale hotel

One of many white buildings owned by a super wealthy man whose name I cannot recall but stipulates the buildings all remain this color. They do look nice.

Tower that inspired today's wedding cake design

Our first stop was Westminster Abbey.  

It is a large Gothic church which is the site of all British monarch's coronations as well as 16 royal weddings and at least 16 royal monarchs are buried here.    Actually, when touring the place it seemed primarily to be a burial hall because it has so many crypts and memorials.  Besides the monarchs and their families, there are many military leaders, prime ministers, and other distinguished members of society buried here.  You can't go far in that place without stepping on someone!  The tombs are very elaborate and interesting to see.  The rest of the cathedral was similar to other ones we have seen.

It has very beautiful stained glass windows, huge columns holding up a very interesting looking ceiling, plus the wooden area that seems to have seats of some sort, but they are actually only a half seat, so I guess those people have to lean instead of sit.

You are not allowed to take pictures within the church which is a bit disappointing. But it was crowded with a long queue outside the church of people waiting to get in, so I think the ban on pictures has more to do with that than anything. 

The abbey is next to Big Ben and Parliament, but both of these are mostly covered in scaffolding, so we didn't see much of them. (Insert your own memories of National Lampoon's European Vacation.)

Lions flank both banks of the Thames river by Tower Bridge

Just interesting detail on this building

Our next stop was Covent Gardens.  Didn't actually see any gardens, but it is a nice square that has a bunch of shops and restaurants. (No pictures!?)

Then we went to the British Museum which was a bust.  We were tired of museums today, but I wanted to check it out to just make sure we didn't miss anything important.  In the map brochure it has a list of the things not to be missed in the museum.  It had about 10 things listed and told where to find them.

We made it to the first 3 or 4 or 5 or 6, but we couldn't even commit ourselves to all 10.



The Holy Thorn Reliquary (a very elaborate piece that holds a thorn believed to be from the crown of thorns) was the only one that we found very interesting. 
We soon skipped ahead to the Rosetta Stone, a rock slab which has a decree from 196 BC engraved on it in 3 different languages.

It became the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.  because we really just couldn't be bothered with anything in the museum at this point.  It was interesting to see the Rosetta Stone in person.  It was bigger than I imagined it to be.

We took a break and had our last authentic afternoon tea. Then we continued on our Big Bus tour the rest of the afternoon.

We got off the bus at one corner of Hyde Park which also backs up to Kensington Gardens.   I hadn't realized quite how big the park was.

We actually walked all the way through Hyde Park and still chose to walk through part of Kensington Gardens wondering how close the Princess Diana memorial playground but didn't see it. We recalled seeing dining options when we passed by here on the bus at the beginning of the day, but they didn't pan out. 

 We ended up walking 2 miles to get back to our apartment.  It was a nice walk for the most part.
The park is nice and the bit of Kensington Gardens that we saw seemed very interesting, but eventually everyone's legs were wearing out and we were glad to see our street again!  We found a restaurant on our street that looked good enough. Marc and Jacob swore they were going to have fish and chips in the UK and this is about there last chance, so marc ordered it and said it was pretty good. (He's not a fish fan.) Most of us tried just to say we did.

London was a nice place to visit.  It was really very little like I imagined it to be.  There is definitely a lot to see and do here.  We could have spent a couple more days and not been bored.  But fighting the crowds was definitely no fun.  It was a relief today that it was Saturday and everything was so much quieter!  I thought it was fun to see all of the things that are just a little bit different than at home - like the signs for "way out" instead of exit and a thousand other small things that make you realize that you are somewhere else.  I still haven't figured out what some of the coins are worth - but they are really cool looking - makes our coins back home look like rubbish!  

We are all looking forward to boarding our RELAXING Disney cruise tomorrow!  Hopefully, I'll find some chances to update this at some of our ports and I also definitely need to get the kids thoughts in here as well!

Click here for part 4

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