This Easter the Meiklejohn family went for a city break to London, a place we'd never been before (well, I've been for a meeting or two, but it's not quite the same). Inspired by the location shots from Mary Poppins, Harry Potter and the mighty Flushed Away, we were looking forward to a few days in the capital. We'd even managed to get an apartment in Kensington, "the Royal Borough".
We booked a flat at the Think apartments in Warwick Road, near Earl's Court. By pure luck this was just round the corner from where the Easybus drops you off from Luton Airport, so the travel down and back again was hassle free (we should have taken the Easy Hotel and made it a totally "Easy" holiday).
We came down on the Monday and returned on Friday, so only really had 3 full days in London. However we had enough time on Monday evening to do our shopping at the Tesco next door and explore up to the Westfield Centre to have a look round the shops there.
The apartment was well placed for walking or getting the underground. Our main gripe was that they'd installed fancy "push to open" doors on all the cupboards, which only worked half the time, so we spent a good part of the week pushing doors until they clicked open.
Our first proper trip out was a walk along Cromwell Road to the Natural History Museum. It was supposed to open at 10, but took another 45 minutes or so to get in. When we eventually got to the front of the queue we found the reason was the one old guy checking everyone's bags as they entered. At least entry was free and there was plenty to see once we got in.
The dinosaur section was the biggest draw, with lots of skeletons, some educational stuff for the kids and a great animatronic t-rex. We also enjoyed the mammals section, with lions (of course), bears and so on, and a life-size model of a blue whale.
Once we'd had a bite of lunch, it was time to try out our Oyster cards for the first time on the underground. These worked great, and kids under 11 get through free. Our one mishap was when Cate was a bit slow getting through the gate behind me and got stuck in Edgeware Road station until a man came and let her through.
Since the weather was still a bit damp we were sticking with indoor options for the moment, and found our way to Madame Tussaud's. There was a big queue to get in here too, but we stuck it out and our Kelloggs token got one of us in free. It was mostly as expected: a whole load of dummies made to look like people I didn't recognize. I did manage Shrek and Adolph Hitler.
There were a couple of added attractions though. There was a London taxi cab ride through the history of London (including Queen Victoria with goggles on for some reason) and also a 3D (with effects) short film with some super heroes. So it was fairly good for an afternoon out. Claire was disappointed that the Edward and Jacob exhibit was manned by a photographer who took your picture for a tenner. Otherwise we'd have an extra picture here.
After coming out we had a brief visit to Regent's Park to try out the facilities but we didn't stay too long.
We had enough time to stop off at Trafalgar Square on the way back to our flat. Cate wanted to see the lions and they turned out to be bigger than expected. Sorry to the Japanese group for jumping up ahead of you but your friend was taking too long trying to climb up to the lion.
We walked along Whitehall next, getting a glimpse of Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament before getting the underground from Westminster to rest our feet for the next day.
Wednesday was bright and sunny, so we reckoned it was a good day to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. So did every other tourist in the city, but we'll get to that.
We journeyed to Hyde Park Corner to take a walk through the parks first. Hyde Park is huge, so we only saw a bit of it, but managed to find a playpark at least. After crossing the roundabout we came through Green Park towards the palace, stopping to look at the memorial to the Bomber Command men. There was a message attached to the statue with a memorial for a member who had just died the week before. There can't be many still around who served in the forces during the second world war.
When we got to the Palace it was mobbed. Even crossing the road to get there was an ordeal: a police escort came through, led by a shouty biker policeman and featuring a limo with darkened windows with presumably someone important in it.
We got a spot near the gates, but behind about three rows of other folk, so couldn't see a great deal. A band came in with some gun-carrying soldiers, they walked about a bit inside the grounds and then they left again.
After the exciting Standing Among the Tourists ceremony, we went to St James' Park for some lunch, and to tick off our "visiting as many parks as possible" card. We then headed back along the edge of Green Park and Picadilly (we did pass the Ritz but didn't kill off any former prime minsters, honest, it was just coincidence we were there that week) then up Regent Street to visit Hamley's toy store. This was good fun, with the staff demonstrating the toys and some decent displays.
More walking next, through the West End and Leicester Square to the Lyceum, for The Lion King. We were up high in the Grand Circle ("straight up the steps, there's 83 of them") with a great view and enjoyed the show. The script was almost exactly the same as the film, but they had some extra songs, and Rafiki was great.
After the show we marched across to Chinatown and found a buffet place for our only dinner out during the week. Then it was back home again.
Thursday was a bit damp again, but we wanted to see some of the famous sights along the river, so we travelled to Tower Hill and started our long walk down the river, passing the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the Shard, HMS Belfast, Southwark Cathedral, the Golden Hind, London Bridge, Tate Modern, the Millennium Bridge, St Paul's Cathedral, Hotel Chocolat (mmmm), Shakespeare's Globe, the London Eye, Jubilee Gardens (and the Jubilee Toilets), street artists and the Houses of Parliament. That was enough walking for the day so we went back for an early tea, then out to the Westfield Centre again for a bit of shopping for things to take home.
And that was our holiday. We left early on Friday to get to the airport and hang about for the flight home. We had a decent few days and certainly got plenty of exercise.
Highlight of the week was on the Thursday. We were passing some modern buildings near Tower Bridge (City Hall I think) and they had some large concrete balls painted black. Cate tried belly-bouncing off one a couple of times. A minute later there was a similar oval shaped object. She tried bouncing off that one and it must have been made of hollow metal as it gave out a great clang, much to her surprise. The Japanese tourists passing by had a fit of the hysterics.
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