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Family Trip Report: 5days in London with 2 primary schoolers

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Roeselare, Belgium
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Family Trip Report: 5days in London with 2 primary schoolers

Now that the Belgian halfterm vacation draws to an end, our family is urged to pick up the usual routines again. So I'm longing to finally find time to start writing and posting my report snippets below. Our annual London family journey gave us five fine days to go out on another discovery, with the same fine group of five as last year (3 adults / 2 kids: my niece, my husband, our two boys almost 6 and 9, and myself).

From experience, we didn't want to set out with a too tight itinerary, except for my regular weekend classes and a few tickets booked in advance. Travelling with kids doesn't sit well with rigid scheduling, but of course I still indulged in browsing TA for possible scenarios, efficient transport and new suggestions. This time our wishlist covered a mixture of some new territory (Horniman Museum, Museum of Childhood, Thames Barrier, Royal Artillery Firepower) and a return to some bigshot sights, back by popular request (Tower of London, Natural History Museum), and as you'd guess some theatre too, sure, how could we resist?!

Roeselare, Belgium
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21. Re: Family Trip Report: 5days in London with 2 primary schoolers

Thank you all for your kind comments, I love this interaction!

@btgm: Ah, Léon will feel heartened by your empathy. But though the refusal ticked me off at first, I could see the risk of disrupting the whole play in case we'd need to make an exit, since the only way is via the stage. Plus 'nearly 6' couldn't possibly pass for age12, right? Marc and I remember this Candide's staging as very interactive and MontiPythonesque, so we were indeed confident that our sons would adore it as much as we did. But apparently the Menier staff were shocked that we'd expose our little ones to a storyline containing undertones of murder, rape and syphilis. All in a very lighthearted way, mind you ;-)

Thanks for the very wise advice, to just use a Driver'sLicence rather than a pass. Will remember next time... Though I'm pretty sure fate must have struck at a later point, as Marc still clearly remembers putting back my passport in his wallet.

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@chitownbigcityfan: No, Belgium is another squirrel-less country, so our kids (and myself too) always react like we're spotting an exotic animal when we see one, lol! I guess any squirrel also reminds the boys of their cuddly pet rabbit back home, so they weren't scared at all.

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@kiwifi: I think it's safe to predict your whole family will fall under the spell of London. We collectively did, so we keep returning :-) And yes, it shouldn't be difficult for your youngest to tick the squirrels off her list! - Have fun preparing your trip, the anticipation really is part of the joy.

Edited: 12 March 2014, 05:35
Nijmegen...
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22. Re: Family Trip Report: 5days in London with 2 primary schoolers

Ok I am confused that Belgium is Squirrel-less when we have them in Netherlands... However even after growing up next to a forest and walking/playing in it almost daily if the weather was ok I hardly ever spotted them, more 'blink and you'll miss it'. So I love the fact that when you spot squirrels in the UK there usually is time for a pic :)

Monika I enjoyed reading about part 2, glad you got to swim after all! And hope the play is still around when the boys are old enough

Roeselare, Belgium
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23. Re: Family Trip Report: 5days in London with 2 primary schoolers

You're correct Inge, I'm sure that my calling all of Belgium squirrel-less is way too generalised. The forests in Limburg and the Ardennen will most likely have them too. But as far as I'm aware there are no squirrels near where we live, or else we're indeed not quick enough to spot them?

Texas
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24. Re: Family Trip Report: 5days in London with 2 primary schoolers

I really enjoy reading your trip reports. You have a very engaging writing style. :)

I really must work in the V & A Museum when we visit for our first trip ever this June. The dining hall alone sounds worth seeing.

I think your boys sound adorable! :) We have squirrels that roam our front and backyards. They are a source of constant entertainment for us. The cats in particular love watching them from the windows. They "cackle" at them and obviously feel quite brave from the safety of the house!

I am looking forward to reading more!

Edited: 13 March 2014, 00:40
Illinois
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25. Re: Family Trip Report: 5days in London with 2 primary schoolers

Nope, Monika, I don't think even I can make almost 6 the same as 12. ;-)

I don't remember if we've seen squirrels anywhere in mainland Europe. I guess they're so common here that I wouldn't notice them not being there since I wouldn't particularly be looking for them.

Roeselare, Belgium
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26. Re: Family Trip Report: 5days in London with 2 primary schoolers

Oh thank you kindly, teacher91! Yes, the three V&A dining halls are magnificent, but try to get there away from lunchtime, so you can avoid the crowds. And just give us a call in case you'd like to borrow one or both of our adorable specimen for a while ;-) Sounds like they'd have a ball watching your cats and the squirrels!

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DAY TWO: Sunday 2 March 2014

I'd grown used to my ICL class taking a very early Sunday start. So I sneaked into the living room at 6am, somewhat sluggish after Saturday's exhausting trip and first day. To my surprise, I found Elias and Leon already bright awake, playing UNO on the couch, exemplary quiet. Large cup of coffee, quick breakfast, big goodbye hugs, and off I was for my last portion of Neurology. Me and the boys again proved early risers throughout our stay, while dad and Caroline appreciated the Greenwich time zone adding an extra hour of leeway. No rush whatsoever, since most attractions don't open until 10am anyway.

NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM

Of the South Kensington museum trio, this is invariably the most crowded one, with weekend queues usually extending well past the street corner. Surprises me, cause while I love its architecture (that splendid main hall!), I personally feel the collections are no more spectacular than what other NH museums offer. But our boys confirmed this museum a kids' favourite. My four companions figured they'd beat the crowds by getting in line by opening time on a Sunday. And indeed to their advantage, the fairly large queue were all let in right at ten o'clock, into a comfortably quiet building. By the time I joined them two hours later, the place was heaving.

Their group used the side entrance on Exhibition Road. Elias kept his little camera ready to point and shoot, as he recalled from three years back those escalators spectacularly going into the giant metallic globe, flanked by statues of the gods. Apparently they got a very last glimpse of them: nhm.ac.uk/natureplus/blogs/whats-new/2014/03… Our youngsters liked the new volcanoes and earthquakes galleries, braved the lines into the dinosaures hall, and marveled at the size of the blue whale. Adding in an extra treat, Marc took them into the gift shop and let them each select a commemorative 3D poster for their room. Oh excruciating choice between tiger, mammoth, dolphin? Finally both ended up with human skeleton/skull pics instead, for a mixed effect of scary and cool.

Near noon, after digesting a whole morning of lectures, I was quite content to guide our group into the open air. The tube whisked us to the BETHNAL GREEN area for the remainder of the day. At first, Caroline and I both remarked that this neighbourhood really didn't pose as scruffy and run down as we had expected. Then we had to revise that opinion after taking a turn into a northbound sidestreet, where housing blocks had depressing jail-like window barricades and barbed wire on the outside walls. Still, several interesting sights to discover in the area, and looking forward to go on a search for street art on a future occasion.

As for lunch, I had looked forward to take my family to local favourite E PELLICI, often reviewed as a most friendly little place for a greasy spoon brunch/lunch. We walked a few blocks down the road from Bethnal Green tube, spotted its lovey art deco façade from across the street, then sadly discovered the tiny place was closed. The lineup of kebab places along Bethnal Green Road didn't appeal much to me, as my taste had been set on a whole different type of cholesterol jolt. So I negotiated with my group to just keep walking a few blocks northbound in the direction of Columbia Road, and see what dining opportunities we'd come across along the way. Sadly, none.

Edited: 13 March 2014, 06:04
Roeselare, Belgium
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27. Re: Family Trip Report: 5days in London with 2 primary schoolers

We continued our way northbound from Bethnal Green Road. The further we ventured, the friendlier the narrow streets appeared again, or maybe that's because everyone walking in this surrounding square mile was carrying some type of plant, bouquet or flower pot. Handy to verify we were in fact approaching COLUMBIA ROAD FLOWER MARKET! Unfortunately we found this short and narrow street market absolutely packed at Sunday noontime. We barely got a fleeting glimpse of the goods on sale: not only flowers, but all sorts of plants, even the more exotic types. Forget browsing the stalls, the only way to advance a few steps now and then, was by shoving our way through the masses.

Though I like to avoid crowds, I was set on braving this short hike, to enjoy the spectacle of bright colours, shouting vendors, and delightful smells. But I was really sorry that we couldn't do this an hour or so later: it would have made an entirely different experience. I had read that crowds usually thin out around closing hour, hence my original plan to lunch first, as to avoid the market's rushhour. Oh well, no big deal, were it not that the kids were hungry and very vocal about not appreciating mom's taste of sightseeing. Elias triumphantly pointed me in the direction of a “shortcut”: by walking behind the back of the stalls! I admitted our timing was horrible, but I firmly insisted on “my” 500 meter stroll: “Come on you guys, just allow me this little fancy!” Some extra playtime at a nearby playground was a welcome reward for their patience, while us adults lounged on a bench to rest our feet.

A little walk further to Hackney Road, where Elias beamed a big smile when he was assigned to call the doubledecker, although he waved his thumb like a hitchhiker. From our front row top deck seats, we spotted some really cool graffiti along Hackney Road. Despite my “rescue bag” with crackers and nuts, by that time hunger got the better of us all. Relieved to reach our next destination, the V&A Museum of Childhood. Caroline and Marc went in for a brief scan of the Museum's Café, with report of only sandwiches, drinks and desserts. So I gladly caved in, and off we went for a kebab across the street of the museum.

V&A MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD

At the edge of London's East End, this very nice building made a good family visit for an hour or two. The numerous glass cases displayed an impressive array of toys from any era, bringing back memories of growing up. But there were several interactive stations too, like a sandpit, a duplo corner, a zone where kids could dress up like soldiers in the 'war zone' upstairs. These made sure that children had some hands-on playtime too, though Elias rightly remarked that most interactive stuff was geared at very young kids.

In the Museum Café, I caught up with BluebelleLondon, with whom I'd kept corresponding after meeting at last years' TALF Pub Meet. While the boys were entertained by the exhibits, and later by a candy treat, we enjoyed a drink and a most delightful chat, ranging from kids and school vacation plans, over wartime Jewish immigration into this very area, trepidations about Kindle, on to future London plans. Very glad we could meet up again!

Before fatigue could set in, we wisely set out to return to our Canary Wharf pool, to treat ourselves to our daily plunge. There was a slight drizzle and Elias was struggling to protect his paper bag with NHM posters. So rather than waiting for the D3 bus, we caught the underground by the streetcorner up to Bank. There, our kids clearly remembered the DLR drill from last year and rushed to the far end of the platform, all set on claiming the front seats of the first wagon, for the extra rollercoaster effect.

Near Canary Wharf, we passed the impressive new Crossrail station, looking like a futuristic timetravelling locomotive, escaped straight from Elias' favourite comic strip ( …ophetwww.net/albums/…stalenmol.gif ) With the glass roof still to be constructed later, the resemblance was striking ( crossrail.co.uk/route/stations/canary-wharf/ ) The DLR neatly dropped us off in front of our flat's doorstep. Time for our traditional icecream popsicle by the poolside, followed by a refreshing dip in the pool. A perfect end to our weekend!

Edited: 13 March 2014, 20:59
Nijmegen...
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28. Re: Family Trip Report: 5days in London with 2 primary schoolers

ooh a Suske&Wiske fan, I had 120

What a shame that the greasyspoon was closed, hope the kebab was ok! Sounds like another fun day :)

Roeselare, Belgium
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29. Re: Family Trip Report: 5days in London with 2 primary schoolers

Great childhood memories indeed, Inge! Like Elias, as a kid I especially loved the older Suske en Wiske's, set back in times of historic events.

Even today, I often note that much of my (limited) knowledge of history is influenced by those adventures and images :-)

Roeselare, Belgium
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30. Re: Family Trip Report: 5days in London with 2 primary schoolers

DAY THREE: Monday 3 March 2014

What a delight that I did not have to rush off for class this morning! So Marc and I treated our group to a leisurely homecooked English breakfast. Then we hopped on “our” South Quay DLR until it reached its terminal, Lewisham. As always when seated by the front window, Léon pretended he was the driver ànd fantasized what would happen if those terminal stop thingies weren't there and the train would just keep running... But no, the wagons boringly obeyed their protocol. Directly outside Lewisham station, a bus got us towards Forest Hill, where we were joined by a large group of preschool boys and girls, apparently on a school trip to the same destination. Everyone on the bus was twittering with excitement, so our slightly older company was content to observe it all from a distance, high up on the backrow of the bus. The last half mile made quite a steep climb, so we counted ourselves lucky to have the bus drop us off right by the museum entrance.

HORNIMAN MUSEUM

Getting there around 9:30am worked out perfectly. The museum didn't open until 10:30, but the extra hour gave us time to explore the lovely hillside gardens and pavillion, boasting superb views of the London skyline. What an excellent place for a picknick on a sunny day! I ended up liking the outside zone even better than the inside: the perfectly groomed lawns and plants, the little animal farm and especially the intricate glass conservatory, posing like a miniature Crystal Palace. We had a most delightful sun out upon arrival, then soon got an instant demonstration of London's fickle maritime climate. Dark clouds drifted our way and in less than half an hour, we were chased inside by a bout of pouring rain. No problem, the Museum Café bid shelture and an excuse for a welcome coffee stop.

Then on to explore this eclectic private collection of Mr Horniman, a wealthy 19thcentury tea merchant. With his famous overstuffed walrus overlooking the place from its central pedestal, this was a quirky collection, housed in a very nice art nouveau building. Lovely how they incorporated some interactive things, like a chance to pet a hedgehog, fossils, and the downstairs musical instruments gallery, where one could hear the sound of any instrument displayed at just the touch of a button. After Sunday's visit to the NHM the boys were a bit underwhelmed by the taxidermy displays. Elias had recently read a childerns' tale about a large bird's adventurous escape from a stuffy museum, where it was destined to become the next stuffed animal. Hard for Elias to shrug off that thought, especially when spotting baby animals: “I hate the museum people who murdered these innocent young animals!” Sure all of our group looked at the exhibit with different eyes with that perspective in mind!

Since our time was limited, we voted not to go into the Aquarium nor the African Galleries, so we can't comment on those. I'd say the Horniman makes a very nice family visit if you happen to have a free half day in South London, though it's probably not rewarding enough to go far out of your way for. But at hardly 20-25 minutes from where we were based, we felt this made a worthwhile stop.

Caroline and the boys still had another hour left to roam the Horniman's downstairs galleries, but Marc and I took off at noontime. Since we all had movie tickets that had already been paid for online, I wanted to make sure we'd get upto the O2 in time. The road to Forest Hill station ran downhill now, but still we waited for the bus, as was still raining heavily. I needn't have worried about timing: via Southeastern Overground and Jubilee Line, the transit to the Millenium Dome was easy and quick.

Time for a movie treat for each group:

O2 CINEWORLD: “Lego Movie” // “Coriolanus” (Can you guess who picked what?)

Our Belgian moviehouses deem the longrunning NT Live broadcasts, which broadcast big profile plays across the globe, not lucrative enough to participate. So we'd never caught one, mainly because we had strong doubts whether the live thrill and vibrance of a stage production could transfer onto a screen? You might well remember from my last report that Marc and I were both raving about this sellout show at the Donmar Warehouse. So when the opportunity for an encore showing popped up while in London, we couldn't resist trying to cram it into our schedule somehow.

One thing we were sure of: it would at least allow us to catch the fine facial expressions we had missed from our terrible balcony corner seats! Well, sure it did, and the reapeat viewing made us appreciate even better just how powerful this play was, especially its heartfelt performances. We hadn't seen much of his other work, but Marc Gattis in particular, made a heartbreaking impression. Strangely enough, the 2 central women performances came over a bit more hollow via the movie closeups. Deborah Findlay had deeply impressed us in December, but now, while she nailed all technical details, it was strange to see her eyes remained mute when the camera drew closer. Then again, this could be a deliberate choice, as her matriarch Volumnia was in fact a true Iron Lady. Tom Hiddleston's energy and charisma stunned us again. His tears at the crucial scene were deeply moving: no hystrionics, only a soft voiced “Mother, mother, what have you done?” Goosebumps!

Marc and I were discussing whether spectators who hadn't seen the actual play would be as moved as we were? Hard to tell, but we rated the NT live screening an excellent subsititute if you can't make it to a sold out show like this one. The obvious lack of live theatre atmosphere is still nicely recreated and you get two little extra treats: obviously the excellent closeups from different angles and good interview snippets which clarified some artistic choices, though the intermission interviewer enquiring about TH being 'sexiest man' alive sounded trite. Other downsides? A minor nuisance: since this was an encore, they might have cut the endless ads from the live screening. For over half an hour, they repeating the same advance slideshow, showing the National Theatre crew all too eager to promote its own fine productions. Nice to see a first time, but after 3 repeats, everyone attending was yawning loudly. Had we known, we could have easily stopped for a real lunch downstairs, rather than the stale and horribly overpriced “taco meal” we'd purchased at the ticket counter. Won't make that same mistake twice!