We flew nonstop overnight on British Airways from Seattle to LHR and returned the same way. This was our first time in Club World, where it was lovely to sleep flat in the small cabin on the upper deck and be pampered a little. My children, ages 11 and 8, behaved beautifully, probably because for the first time they were comfortable, had enough space, and could get a good night's sleep during the flight. The BA Terraces lounges were great, too, because we could all relax in comfy armchairs, have a bite to eat, surf the Internet, and so on. As I said, Club World is a new experience for us, as we usually mill miserably around the gate and buy magazines and chocolate in the airport shops for no good reason.
Our first day in London we were eager to get our vacation started, so with two children and four pieces of luggage to manage we took a private van shuttle from Heathrow right to the door of our rental apartment across from Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. I think it was Airports Express. It cost 42 pounds, not including tip, which was less than we would have paid for Heathrow Express. I have no problem taking the train or tube from the airport to Central London on an all-adult trip to London, but with kids it's trickier. They have less patience, and it's stressful for me to negotiate all the luggage and keep an eye on the kids in the street or near the train tracks.
Our apartment worked out well for us. There was a master bedroom with ensuite bathroom for us, and a double bedroom for the kids with a second bathroom in the hall. The front of the building on New Globe Walk has Starbucks on one side and Tas Pide (a nice Anatolian restaurant) on the other, and our apartment in the back overlooked the archaological site of the Elizabethan Bear Gardens. We planned to see lots of theatre at the Globe and the National, so the location was perfect for us. The two nearest tube stops were Mansion House and London Bridge, but mostly we just crossed the river by various bridges or took the RV1 bus. The location was also great for Borough Market, which we visted each day it was open. Great food shopping.
The first day we stocked our kitchen with supplies from the Sainsbury on Borough High Street, bought two 7-day TravelCards for the tube and bus, took a trip on the London Eye, and mooned around Bankside. Our 11-year-old bought a transport pass each day for one pound. Our 8-year old was always free. I showed the kids the site of the original Globe Theatre down the block from the apartment, on Park Street, which was a big thrill for them, and we had dinner at Tas Pide, downstairs from our apartment.
The next two weeks went by in rather a blur, so I'll summarize:
"Guys and Dolls" at the Piccadilly, a huge hit with the kids, who sang "Luck Be a Lady" and other songs from the show to themselves for days.
"The Comedy of Errors" at the Globe, another huge hit with the kids, especially the youngest. There was lots of slapstick.
The Comedy Store Players in their annual gig at the Globe, which was awesome. The improv was brilliant, and the kids are still cracking each other up with jokes from it.
"Under the Black Flag" by Simon Bent at the Globe, which was overlong and not particularly entertaining. A big disappointment.
"The Woman in Black," which only my husband and my son went to. My husband had seen it before and enjoyed it hugely, but said it was too spooky for our daughter (age 8).
"The Life of Galileo" by Brecht at the National, which my son enjoyed more than my daughter. The star was Simon Russell Beale, who played Charles Musgrove in "Persuasion."
"The Royal Hunt of the Sun" by Peter Shaffer at the National, which interested my daughter for the theology and my son for story of the Spanish Conquest of the Incan empire, a big interest of his. The star was Alun Armstrong, an old favorite who I had seen quite recently as Inspector Bucket in the new "Bleak House."
"Billy Elliot" at the Victoria Palace Theatre. This big blockbuster was followed with an appeal for contributions to a charity called
Place2be, which was okay I guess but unusual. It sounded like a good cause, so I gave 20 pounds. The kids loved the show.
"The Producers," which was another big hit with the kids. My husband and I really missed Gene Wilder, Zero Mostel, and
especially the late great Mr. Shawn from the original movie. I noticed the LSD character was completely written out of the musical, and a love interest was added. Why?
"Coriolanus" at the Globe. A great production. I put my 8-year-old in the "Child's Play" activity for 8 to 11-year-old children at the Globe during the performance, which she really enjoyed. I had booked my 11-year-old for "Child's Play," too, but he was all fired up about seeing the play and enjoyed it immensely.
"Antony and Cleopatra" at the Globe. My older child, who is a big history buff, enjoyed it a great deal, but my daughter left at the interval with my husband. Not her cup of tea. Frances Barber was a brilliant Cleopatra!
"Rock and Roll" by Tom Stoppard at the Duke of York's. My husband and I saw this alone. We hired a babysitter from Top Notch Nannies for four evenings out alone, which worked out well for everybody. An interesting play set in Cambridge and Prague, starring Rufus Sewell, Brian Cox, and Sinead Cusack. I enjoyed it a lot, except for the horrifying images of the elderly Rolling Stones projected on the scrim at the very end. My eyes! They looked for all the world like shriveled mummies. Their new music sounded OK.
I was touched by the idealization of Syd Barrett, who passed away so recently.
"Titus Andronicus" at the Globe. A fine production starring Douglas Hodge. We left the children at home for this one, too. Several grown women fainted clean away among the groundlings during the goriest bits.
When not seeing plays, we took a boat to spend the day in Greenwich, a train to spend the day at Hampton Court Palace, and a train to Marble Hill to see Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra perform, which we really enjoyed along with fireworks and a lovely picnic basket from Marks and Spencer.
The children did not really enjoy the Tate Modern, except for th special Kandinsky exhibit, but they loved the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, the Museum of London, the Tate Britain, Westminster Abbey, the Globe Exhibition, St. Bartholomew, Sir John Soane's Museum, the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Cabinet War Rooms, and especially the Tower of London.
They loved the Tower so much because of the costumed players on the green next to the White Tower, who played two quarreling nobles, Woodville and Neville, competing in a contest of arms. A most amusing performance, with much witty banter between the two nobles, two ladies, and two squires. There were also costumed historical players at Hampton Court Palace, but they were much more serious.
We made multiple visits to certain museums, such as the British Museum and the National Gallery. We ate in many museum cafes, which were all surprisingly good. The one in Greenwich was the best.
My daughter started to miss her pets at home, so one day I took her to the Children's Zoo at Battersea Park. I recommend this for young children. We spent half a day in the park, most of it at the Zoo, where there are many animals to be petted and examined. It was very relaxing.
Both kids really loved running through the parks, riding carousels, and playing in the Adventure Playgrounds, especially the Peter Pan one in Kensington Gardens.
We had a lot of fun and did a lot of other activities I haven't listed, for example a variety of London Walks. The takeaway lesson for me, however, is that I don't enjoy London so much in really warm weather. Even when the weather outside is only moderately warm, the temperature in the tube is far too hot, and even buses have no air circulation. Only a tiny window pane can be opened at the top of each bus window, and that is not enough in really warm weather with no air conditioning. I have no idea why anyone would design bus windows that don't open at least halfway. We walked a lot and took boats from the Bankside pier many days just to avoid the tube and buses.
Sadly, the extended drought has turned all the grass brown, and it was disconcerting to see brown grass in the parks, on Hampstead Heath, in Greenwich, at Marble Hill, and almost everywhere else when one remembers a gorgeous emerald green.
Finally, I encountered crowds that I was not used to in London. I love the city unconditionally, but from now on I think I'll go in the off season if at all possible. I'm also very excited about the new ban against smoking indoors that will come into effect in 2007. I'm just not used to smoke in bars anymore. It's dreadful.