If you haven’t been to London you haven’t lived, and you have saved significant amounts of money….
We have been to London as a family in 2010, me and Tommy in Christmas 2014 and again as a family in Summer 2015.
Our first trip was a quick overnight stay on the way back to the UK from the UAE. It was Gay Pride weekend, so we met up with Auntie Di and Auntie Linda for day of high camp and rousing marching.
Although there were loads of people everywhere the atmosphere was pretty relaxed and there were enough costumes on display to keep the boys happy. If you do go with older kids be prepared to explain what’s going on, which can take some time, especially explaining whether the transgender parent is a mummy or a daddy.
Still, although there is a party atmosphere do be prepared for lots of standing up, and bear in mind it’s not a kid’s festival per se…
Me and Tommy do the town
On our boys trip to London (on the way to catching a plane back home) me and the Tommy boy packed in as much as we could and had a great, if tiring time.
We started with a train journey in first class from Nottingham to London, which can be bought for the same price as a regular ticket if planned far enough in advance. It’s still not exactly the Orient Express, but you do get a bit more room to stretch out.
We also did the obligatory trip to the London Eye which involves a 40 minute wait (and that’s with buying your tickets in advance), to spend 3 minutes going round in a circle.
You get to take loads of photos and you can check out some of the buskers nearby as well as get good views of Parliament, but it’s not cheap and I think if you asked Tommy if it was the highlight of the trip he’d probably say no.
Another cheaper (free in fact) alternative is the Science Museum, which gave Tommy the chance to turn loads of handles…
See himself in heat…
And gurn splendidly into a magnifying glass.
The staff are helpful, there’s loads to do and you can take your time, again London’s museums prove to be a world class act….
In between all this we found ourselves walking…
And sailing in the Golden Hinde.… OK not the last one, but the point is that moving around London is an adventure in itself, kids love the underground and coming across the unexpected like the Golden Hinde or the England team coach.
I think we did fall into the trap of trying to see it all, which felt like when you stuff your face at an eat-all-you-can buffet and end up feeling sick. I think the highlights for me were probably the free things, like checking out the street performers in Covent Garden or the museums. And of course the stuff involving stopping in for a pint and pie in a pub by the river, or getting stuck in to a full English next to the train station.
We capped the trip off with another wonderful and kid friendly museum, the Imperial War Museum.
The museum was undergoing a face lift when we were there so parts of it were closed, but all the more reason to include it on our itinerary next time we’re in London.
Not only does the museum have loads of stuff that boys love, it also has some loads of stuff on the social history of Britain, which gives kids the chance to understand what life would have been like in the blitz for example. Once again the museums were the winners and without a doubt on our next trip will take pride of place in our kids tour of London.
Our third trip to London
Well we just got back from our third trip to London, this time a two night stay for the four of us at the Southwark Travelodge, in possibly the biggest family room I have ever seen (ask for room 210). I think we learned some of the lessons from trying to do too much last time, but even in the really reduced area we covered just South of the river the boys were still buggered by the end of it. Oh and while I’m at it if you do stay here, be sure to go over the road to the Lord Nelson for some great grub, with plenty of kid type options and a pint of London Ale.
As well the massive room (at a decent price it has to be said), it was within walking distance of the Golden Hinde, HMS Sheffield, The Imperial War Museum, Borough Market, the Tower of London, The South Bank, The Globe Theatre, Tower Bridge and the Scoop for some free theatre. So basically, we did as many of these things as we could over two and half days plus a tiring wander around Covent Garden.
So fast forward from our last trip to London and the Imperial War Museum’s face-lift was finished. And the result is superb. I stand by my earlier blog comments that (to paraphrase a bit), the IWM is the most interesting museum for young boys. If it has any drawbacks it’s that it’s simply too much, the WW1 exhibition alone is worth a couple of hours and the overall effect of so much stuff is a bit overwhelming or it was at least for Danny. For kids Tommy’s age and above (he was 9 when we went), it’s better as they can engage with the text more and understand the historical events that shaped the various conflicts. Also don’t forget all of this is free (although we did buy a £5 brochure on the way in)
Also as promised in the last post about London we did a tour of the Golden Hinde, which I would say came in at about a 7 out of 10. I say that because on the upside the trip was good value at £20 for a family of 4, which is a cheap two hours in London I reckon. And the guide was very knowledgeable and the ship itself is an impressive reproduction. What the visit was missing was a bit of swash buckle for the kids (although there was bit), and there was a feeling you were being rushed through the tour to get the next lot on, although it should be noted you can wander round the boat to heart’s content once the tour is over.
So I guess if you’re in this part of the city and have a penchant for sailors and what not then you could do a lot worse.
To complete the nautical theme of this visit we went to the HMS Belfast, which in case you haven’t noticed is a bloody big WWII destroyer parked (is that the right word?) in the Thames just by Tower Bridge.
Again it was a really impressive museum run by the Imperial War Museum, You get to wander around the ship and really get a feeling for what it must have been like for the seamen. It’s not cheap at £48 for a family of four, but given we visited the main museum for a fiver it all seemed to square out at the end.
So now onto the non-nautical stuff. As I said we stuck largely to the area between London Bridge and Tower bridgeish and avoided a lot of time on the underground. We did use public transport a couple of times though, and the number 12 bus is worth a recommendation.
After a 15 minute stroll from Imperial War Museum we got to the Elephant and Castle for some seriously delicious Ecuadorian food. Probably not too many people know about this gem, but basically the Elephant and Castle is home to many of the city’s Latino community and they have set up businesses under the railway arches (and the street as well). This is where Latinos go to eat, so expect plentiful grub and an authentic vibe, DON’T go expecting kitschy Latinness, these are places to get a good fill, buy some goodies from home and bugger off. In fact there is not even a menu, it’s whatever the lady has cooked that day and is served by her daughter (at least during the school holidays). Still if you want to practice your Spanish and enjoy eats from Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and the like then it’s worth a look.
So from there we jumped on the number 12 after buying the obligatory day pass and went over the river to Trafalgar Square. It’s worth noting the day pass for two adults is £12 each and kids under 11 go free, making £24 for a family of four, compared to £73 for a tourist bus. The Square itself is now bereft of pigeons but not the tourist hordes, but when I put seed on my hands they didn’t come pecking. So the message is if you are a true devotee of Lion Statues or you want to visit the National Gallery then take a few minutes to look at the Square if you’re not then meh.
Still one thing Trafalgar Square is free, as are (at least kind of ) the buskers in Covent Garden only 10 minutes walk away and the Scoop free Theatre (more of which in a minute). The reason I say Covent Garden is kind of free is that you would be pretty hard-hearted not to give a couple of quid to really high quality street performers, like Charlie here, but of course being surrounded by horrible designer shops and chain stores does take the edge off the proceedings a bit. The Scoop theatre was mercifully chain free, although they do try and get a donation out of you. But again it would seems churlish to give nothing as the show on offer was good if not great, and on a nice afternoon you get to sit in the sun and watch some dedicated individuals put on a professional show for nothing. We even tried to flog Tommy as a possible slave to the company, they put him through his press-up paces but decided not to take him in the end…
The other two places we tried by the river were both worth a look and a bite. The Tate Modern is housed in an old power station and is worth it just for the building alone. There is always stuff for kids on, just check out the website. On the day we went the kids enjoyed doing some touch screen art which went on the Tate website.
And a final word for our trip to London goes to Borough Market the place to go near the river for a great variety of food, that can stray a bit into hipster territory but mom can tuck into oysters, the kids into organic hot dogs (I suppose they were organic anyway) and I can tuck into pig done every which way.
2017 was our chance for a quickie in Brighton, I mean trip of course, as this is a family blog. My nephew Matt was having a leaving party that coincided with our arrival in the UK, and having lived in Brighton myself many moons ago it seemed too good a chance to miss up on.
I used to work on the Palace Pier so it was a windy walk down memory lane with the kids. It was just as I remembered, pretty dire, but everyone loves shoving two pence pieces into a machine, right?
Afterwards it was Fish and Chips at the famous Harry Ramsdan’s, this was to the expected standard and the service was good as well, we even got some free chips out of them for a reason I now forget.
We roped Cousin Matt into taking the boys to play Crazy Golf, which quite frankly given the Arctic weather conditions (in JUNE) and steady rain it was all a bit crazy. Me and Lorena took a walk through Kemp Town to have a look at the second shops and go for some coffee. In fact we were staying in one of those amazing Kemp Town terraces on the sea front and the whole area is still great. Kemp town itself has loads of atmosphere and although it’s not a kids area per se I would say it’s a good area for kids to see rainbow life.
What was looking decidedly down at heel was the beach front between Kemp Town and the pier. Back in the day this was a vibrant area as well, but sadly no more, and even less so after dark I suspect 😦 .
The rest of the city looked the same as ever, the area round the Lanes is still touristy but cool, but I must say the Brighton Pavillion also look like they could do with a face lift. Still Brighton is Brighton and although it has plenty of haters, they’re just jealous.
The highlight of our stay was Cousin Matt’s party. It was full of the beautiful Brighton crowd and the boys LOVED it, especially when one of the (male) hosts came out in an an evening gown, Danny’s face was a picture. Still they were in their element chatting with Matt’s mates and Danny even did a reprieve of his Mexican comedy routine from two years previous, and despite this being the liberal elite they seemed to be able to laugh quite happily at racist Mexican jokes.
That night we booked into a hotel so as to get some sleep. This was of course ludicrously expensive for what it was (like a B and B), but the reception staff were nice enough. I managed a night on the tiles with party people, but my heart is not in it like the old days, still a great Brighton weekend.
Next day mom went off on a train to London to see her mate and me and the boys nursed my hangover until the afternoon when we set course for Derbyshire and nan.