Tag Archives: tourist attractions

Culture, crowns & crime

After our late night at the theatre, you wouldn’t be blamed for assuming that we might take it easy and start our Friday off in a more relaxed fashion; but you’d be very wrong. We had lots planned for our second day in London and wanted to achieve as much as we could before catching our train back home, which meant one thing, a much earlier sleep that maybe any of us would have chosen.

Our first stop was a tour of the Globe theatre, just 5 minutes from our hotel and G’s choice of must-see sights for our visit. It’s the first time we’ve been to the Globe, despite having walked past it and discussed seeing it on very many previous occasions. The 40 minutes spent learning more about the history of the original theatre as well as the efforts to build the reconstruction were absolutely brilliant and M enjoyed being able to ask questions of our guide based on bits and pieces he had previously learned at school. My only regret is that we hadn’t built in time to go to a Shakespeare play whilst we were there as both children have eagerly asked if we could see one, so at some point in the future, of course, we absolutely will.

With the Globe ticked off our list and a watchful eye on the impending grey clouds, we found our way back to the Tower of London and headed in to explore as much as we could given the August tourists, darkening skies and 2 children who were growing hungry rapidly. We decided to start with the Crown Jewels and just about survived the spots of rain that fell as we made our way through the fairly lengthy queue. The exhibit has been updated since the last time Mike and I visited there many moons ago and is definitely worth a visit as there is a great balance between the information boards, video footage, photographs, timelines and the Crown Jewels themselves.

Unfortunately, our late night the night before combined with the poor weather and hunger meant that G and M really didn’t want to queue to see anything else at the Tower, so we made the decision to convert our admission tickets into annual passes to allow us to return and see the bits we missed out this time over the next year. As I am keen to also visit Hampton Court – poor G is being inundated with “educational” visits that fit with her GCSE syllabuses at the moment – this will hopefully prove to be a canny decision as we can visit there as well as other palaces as part of the Historic Royal Palaces membership.

Once we all were fed and watered to our fill, we then spent some time trying to decide how to round off our day in London. The original plan had been to stay at the Tower of London for the rest of the day, so it was now time to find an alternative that would fit with our plans for dinner and the train journey home. After lots of suggestions, some more extraordinary than others, we eventually settled on a visit to the Clink Prison Museum, which is tucked away just along the road from our hotel. It was a decision based on our need to escape the rain for an hour or so, but was definitely the unexpected success story of our whole trip. This museum is not big, but it certainly is crammed full of information, artefacts and stories about what is considered to be the oldest prison in England. Both kids were able to wander through at their preferred pace and spend time in the bits that interested them the most. It was come as no surprise that M was particularly taken with the torture devices on display and shared everything he was learning with whoever would listen.

From the Clink, there just enough time to pick up our bags from the hotel, journey across London for dinner and reach the station to catch our train back home.

London: our whistle-stop tour

With our appointment at GOSH over, we then focussed our attention on the activities we’d chosen for the rest of our London stay.  We had narrowed down our choices from the lengthy starting point created by G and M and suggested that each child chose 1 activity each that they really wanted to do on this trip: be that museum, park, art gallery or tourist attraction.  G quickly settled on the Imperial War Museum, M picked the London Eye and Mike and I agreed on booking tickets for a show as well as attempting to complete the amazing “Shaun in the City” sculpture trail.  It was, without question, an ambitious plan, but with some careful planning and the agreement of both children that the amount of walking required would far outweigh the maximum moaning I was prepared to accept, I was confident we might just be able to squeeze it all in.

Imperial War Museum

imperial-war-museum-aburtThis has been on our “hit list” for quite some time, but our previous 2 attempts to visit had both been scuppered by an extended closure to prepare the exhibits marking the centenary of the start of WWI last year.  With nothing to stop our visit this time, we travelled across London via tube and finally convinced our pair to head inside after the requisite hundreds tens of photos had been taken of the impressive naval guns at the front entrance.  G was keen to work her way through the WWI exhibits, whilst M had a yearning for learning more about being a spy and Mike was intent on seeing the Holocaust display.  I had allowed a full day for our visit and we certainly needed it.  There was an incredible mix of posters, photos, short films, interactive displays, war memorabilia and oodles of facts to work our way through and the children were able to dip in and out of the information as they wanted.  We lasted until mid-afternoon before G and M started to flag, interest was lost and we made our way back to the apartment for a little downtime before we headed out for dinner.

The Railway Children – near Waterloo Station

rcIn the run up to our visit, M had spotted an advert for “The Railway Children” and was keen to see the show.  As this was a perfect opportunity to watch a play, rather than the musicals or pantomimes we usually attend, we agreed to get some tickets and had great seats near to the front of the seating area.  M and G loved that the characters came out to talk to the audience before the play started and were enthralled throughout.  I won’t spoil the experience – but it does include a real steam train and the most amazing staging I’ve seen in a long time – and would definitely recommend going to see this fabulous classic if you have the chance.

London Eye

IMG_0746This has quickly become an instantly recognisable icon on the London skyline and is actually something the family has done before.  Every time we head to GOSH for an appointment, M begs for a trip on the Eye and every time I say no, not least because it’s actually nowhere near the hospital and our regular visits are almost always somewhat tight on time.  Having given them free rein to choose one thing they each really wanted to do, it was no surprise that this was M’s selection.  The 30-minute revolution offers spectacular views across London and both children were fascinated with trying to pick out various buildings they knew from the pod.  I was also impressed with the thoughtfulness of the member of staff directing people into the waiting lines.  You can easily end up queuing for around 20-30 minutes, which is never ideal when you have children in tow and definitely not when one of them is sporting a litre feeding bottle and pump on his back.  This lovely lady spotted us in the queue with M and invited us to enter via the fast-track system instead, stating it was “.,just too chilly..” to be standing around waiting.  Of course we all realised that M and his tube were the real reason behind her kind offer, but appreciated her not making a fuss about it and simply offering us an alternative that would make life a lot easier and our experience a lot more fun.

Shaun in the City sculpture trail

Just one of the many Shauns we found

Just one of the many Shauns we found

Yet another sculpture trail to echo a multitude that have been seen across the UK over the past few years, including the Paddington Bear one we dipped into whilst visiting the poppies at the Tower of London last November.  This year’s trail was based on Nick Park’s popular character, “Shaun the Sheep” and featured 50 sculptures, each individually decorated by a host of celebrities, found at strategic locations around the capital.  The sculptures were split into 5 groups – 4 distinct trails and then 5 “lost sheep”, who were not particularly close to any of the other ones – and most were close enough together to allow us to attempt to find nearly 40 of them in one day.  G and M’s aim was to find and be photographed with all 50 before our trip was over and we managed it, though with very little time to spare before we needed to catch our train home.  These London sculptures are only in place until 25th May and then there will be 70 Bristol counterparts during July and August.  Later in 2015, all 120 will be auctioned to raise much-needed funds for children’s hospitals across the UK through Wallace and Gromit’s Children’s charity.  We loved following the map before finding ourselves in parts of London we wouldn’t normally visit and there’s a real camaraderie between fellow Shaun-spotters you come across along the way.  You can find out more about the “Shaun in the City” trail here.

Stomp – Ambassadors Theatre

Our final treat was unplanned, but was definitely a winner.  Every time we travel up, or down, the escalators at tube stations, G and M love to look at the advertising posters that adorn the walls.  If you ever hear cries of “Seen that one…and that one…but we haven’t seen that,..yet!“, then it’s a fairly safe bet that we are somewhere in the vicinity.  Stomp is one of those productions that they’ve been longing to see for quite some time, but we’ve been reluctant to go because G, in particular, doesn’t cope well with loud noises.  Our search for Shaun led us into Leicester Square and the hordes of theatre ticket booths that can be found there.  For those not in the know, these sell last-minute tickets for many of the numerous shows being performed in London at any given time and often represent great value for money due to the discounts they give.  We decided to see if we could get some discounted seats for Stomp and were delighted to have the choice of 4 prime seats on the second row of the circle.  The children were a little shocked to learn that there was no interval in the performance, but were even more surprised at how quickly that 1.5 hours passed notably as they were left wanting more.  The skill of the performers is phenomenal, especially when you realise that you hear no words and no music for the duration of the show, but are totally absorbed by the percussive masterpieces they produce.  Another fantastic show that we’d highly recommend.

We even managed a trek across Tower Bridge on our travels

We even managed a trek across Tower Bridge on our travels

So, it was definitely something of a whistle-stop tour of the capital for us this April, but a great break that we won’t forget for a while.