Jun 092014
big ben IG

Actually, I wasn’t in a huge picture-taking mood this time ’round. This was the only photo I shared on Instagram in the entire 4 days of our London trip.

I still have one more London post up my sleeve in coming days. (And Amsterdam. And, well, every other big trip we’ve taken in the last few years that I never blogged about….) In the meantime, here’s a little photo tour of our four days in London.

parliament and big ben

We stayed at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, located just across this bridge from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Most people don’t think of the South Bank of the Thames when choosing places to stay, but it was a highly convenient location, with Waterloo Station and subway lines two blocks away, bus stops right outside the hotel, or of course an easy stroll by foot across the bridge. We also really enjoyed the hotel. First morning’s check-in was a disaster, after a sleepless transatlantic red eye that left us too tired to do anything but sit in the lobby for three hours waiting for a room to be cleaned. I didn’t think any hotel could overcome that rotten first exposure (not technically their fault since we arrived many hours before check-in time, but still…), but really everything else about our stay was a delight. We paid with hotel loyalty points, and a shockingly low number of points at that (thanks to the Club Carlson credit card that gives you a free night for every loyalty stay), and they even upgraded us to a junior suite with a fold-out couch that made a whole separate bedroom for Vera.

Our hotel was also a block away from the London Eye, so we have plenty of photos that look like this:

london eye and aquarium

The area right at the foot of the London Eye was tourist central, but we were big fans of this carousel. Mr. T and I flipped a coin for who got to ride with Vera, and I lost. At least it was fun to photograph!

carousel near london eye

Other favorite spots included the Battersea Park Children’s Zoo. It’s small and pricey, but the animals were adorable, and there was a fantastic playground. We figured Vera spent enough time tramping with her parents past great buildings and museums — she should be able to spend an afternoon somewhere extra fun for kids. (And honestly, Mr. T and I are always up for a zoo visit. We love cute little animals at least as much as Vera.)

battersea zoo playground

Mr. T originally researched the zoo because it has meerkats. We used to watch Meerkat Manor every day before school, so we’re big fans. Seeing meerkats in person was just as exciting as we hoped, but the otters next door stole our attention and then stole our hearts. Their tiny otter heads peeked repeatedly over the dividing wall to check what was going on over in the meerkat pen. Once we walked over to the otters themselves, they squealed and came running over to us. We talked to then, they squeaked to us. Friends were made.

battersea park zoo otters

Of course we visited Buckingham Palace — which is to say, the fancy gates outside Buckingham Palace. Happy to see it, but we actually had a more memorable time at St. James’s Park next door. Just a few yards away from the tourist hordes, we stepped into this peaceful, lovely scenery.

st james park

And a playground with a big sandbox! Meerkats burrow underground in sand tunnels, so our new friend from the Battersea Park Zoo felt quite at home.

sandbox and meerkat

One morning, Mr. T got up early to see the Tower of London. He has a particular interest in ancient historic sites, and I could take it or leave it on this visit, so we figured he could move faster without a family entourage.

tower of london and skyline

Love the ultra-modern buildings across the river in the background. Well done, Mr. T!

We met up at Leadenhall Market — one of the random places I remember fondly from my first visit to London in 1993. There’s not much to see at Leadenhall, but it’s atmospheric and worth a quick look. (Sharp-eyed Harry Potter fans might recognize it as the setting for Diagon Alley in the movies.)

leadenhall market

On the night after our British Museum visit, we were all starving and Vera was campaigning for French Fries. We happened across Ed’s Easy Diner, which was fun and turned out to be quite tasty for burgers and fries. And if you don’t know Mr. T’s real first name … let’s just say we found the place extra amusing.

Ed's Easy Diner

Another favorite meal was at Cafe in the Crypt in the St. Martin in the Fields church off Trafalgar Square. The cafeteria meal was just adequate, but the atmosphere was relaxed and the setting so unique.

Cafe in the Crypt

The rest of the time, we spent many hours riding double decker buses around town, or just walking about catching sight of all the iconic London images.

phone booth

Our South Bank hotel location meant we crossed a lot of bridges. I love this “grainy black and white” built-in filter on our camera — even something as mundane as crossing a bridge starts looking like an outtake from an old European arthouse film.

BW bridge

And finally, more riverfront views, more crazy camera filters, and another favorite memory of the trip … just wandering along the river, enjoying the sights on a warm spring evening.

parliament at night


Have you ever been to London? What were your favorite memories?

May 232014

Sorry to switch topics so abruptly from health issues, but … welcome to my blog! I get bored sticking to any one topic. Plus I’ve been extra sick this week and prefer not to think about illness when I’m at my worst. It might seem odd to go from describing a semi-homebound life to detailing transatlantic family vacations, but I deal with the downsides of illness by escaping into travel. Between researching future destinations, planning specific details, actually taking the trip, and then revisiting photos and warm memories, two good-sized trips can carry me psychologically through a whole year.

Our latest family escape was to London and Amsterdam this spring, and I’m excited to share a few tips and favorite photos over coming weeks….

The British Museum's stunning interior courtyard -- the largest covered square in Europe.

The British Museum’s stunning interior courtyard — the largest covered square in Europe.

My husband’s biggest goal for London was to see the British Museum. (“They stole all the best stuff, from all over the world, and it’s all in a single building!”) I was interested, but worried how that would go down with our 5-year-old. She’s in a tough zone where she’s too old to just toddle along with Mom and Dad but not old enough to appreciate museum exhibits in the way they were intended. We planned a weekend visit to take advantage of the museum’s Kid’s Activity Backpacks, but we got held up and arrived after they closed the program for the day. Vera was disappointed but still reasonably open-minded about the museum. We had ten minutes, tops, to come up with Plan B before she lost interest.

We sought out the famous Easter Island statue, which unexpectedly saved the day. I posed for a photo, copying the statue’s unique expression. Vera hid behind my leg:

First recorded instance of duckface??

First recorded instance of duckface??

But then, suddenly, Vera ran to another statue and said, “Daddy! Do like this one!” She and her father posed together, copying the position of the person in the statue. And then we did another. And another. And another.

Joining a friendly canine for a "play bow."

Joining a friendly canine for a “play bow.”

Meanwhile, Mr. T has his wrist mauled by a fiercer version.

In this way, we kept Vera busy through room after room. Mom and Dad were patient with the endless photo shoot (frankly, she wasn’t the only one having fun!), and in return Vera was patient (… mostly …) if Mom or Dad wandered off to look at something else or to read an explanatory card or two.

This picture cracks me up every time.

This one cracks me up every time.

We even managed to take a few regular museum-y photos. Though not always exactly as planned — see, e.g., the photo-bomber who popped up unexpectedly in Daddy’s artsy archway shot:

vera photobomb

Thanks to our super-tough, basically indestructible camera, we even handed the equipment over to Vera for some artistic creations of her own:

The young photographer at work.

The young photographer at work.

If you ever find yourself at a loss for how to keep a young one entertained at an adult museum, I highly recommend the family photo shoot! All it takes is a short lecture on respecting the artifacts (even mature kids may not realize they’re not allowed to touch), a camera, and your sense of imagination and fun.