For winter holiday we decided that we would like to come down and explore London. I had never been here and Dadam had very fond memories of school trips. We got extremely lucky and a high-school classmate of mine lives in London and manages her company's corporate flats. She said she could let us stay for a week for free! We were thrilled and happily took her up on her verrry generous offer. So this week we have been staying at a very posh London flat and adventuring around. It has been a ton of fun!
Sunday noon-ish we took the bus from our house to the train station into Leeds. Just getting to the bus was a bit of an excursion because there was a solid sheet of ice, down the hill from our house to the bus stop. We just ended up walking on the road, so that no one slid all the way down the hill. We got to the train station with very little trouble and had a bite to eat. It was bitterly cold that day and the train station was so cold we all ate with our coats and hats on! We quickly made our way to the train and got settled at our reserved table. Thankfully there were two seats behind that were unclaimed so we could spread out a little.
As we sat down, an older gentleman and his female traveling companion sat down right across the aisle from the two extra seats we had claimed. He had a small dog and, it turned out, a tortoise. The train started moving and he began handing the tortoise around to various other riders on the train so that they could hold it and touch it. He loudly corrected anyone who dared refer to it as a turtle AND he kept foisting it off on Adam and Leila. First the tortoise sat in Leila's lap, which was okay for a while and then she got tired of it. Then the tortoise had to sit on the seat-back tray in front of Leila. It was all quite bizarre. My breaking point came when Elie loudly yelled that she wanted to hold the tortoise in her lap. I hissed, "That tortoise is a Christmas present for a little girl. We are NOT playing pass the tortoise!" The dog was allowed to wander up and down the aisle of the train and would often lay down right next to our feet, which then resulted in it being kicked anytime any of us wanted to stand up. As if all of this wasn't enough, mid-way through our ride the train slowed to a stop for ten minutes or so and then the engineer got on and explained that we would be 40 minutes late to London because one of the front windscreens had shattered and the train couldn't drive in excess of 100mph!
We did finally make it to our train stop, get on the Tube and find our flat. It was quite an adventure already!
On Monday we had wanted to go to the Museum of London, but after doing some research we discovered that most of the museum was closed due to extensive renovations. Bah. So we opted for the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. On the Tube, down to our stop, and out to the Science Museum. It was a fascinating museum. The first exhibit hall held a history of steam power. There were some amazing steam engines there and they had original examples of some of the first steam engines ever used. The evolution of the engineering was really cool to see. The second exhibit was all about space and there we managed to catch a demonstration done by a member of the museum staff. She did a GREAT job and our kids were enthralled from start to finish. Even Adam and I found it very entertaining. After eating a bit of lunch, we walked through a fascinating exhibit talking about 100 years of science. The big three were pretty interested in looking at how tools of science and creativity have changed, but Leila could not have cared less. At one point, I heard Dadam say, "Leila! Stop it!! Leila, stop LICKING the glass of the display!" Lovely. I knew we were really loosing the kids when Elie said to Talia, "Get on my back for a horsey ride. Don't worry, it'll be safe 'cause we're on carpet!" (Never mind that we were surrounded on all sides by floor to ceiling glass display cases, with century old artifacts in them.)
It was time for a change of pace and so we walked next door to the Natural History Museum. The first exhibit we wandered into was a huge dinosaur exhibit. Lots of great skeletons, some life size models and even a few animated dinos were plenty to keep everyone interested. There was a life sized, animated T-Rex and Talia was not a fan, but Leila wanted to go back and "see it again" once we were passed that display. We looked at the mammals and the sea life. We wandered through the invertebrate and coral display. Then we had tea. The building where the Natural History Museum is located is absolutely breathtaking. It was made out of Terra Cotta and has beautiful gilded ceiling frescoes, amazing carved animals in the bricks of the walls, and gorgeous stained glass.
Tuesday we set off to see the Tower of London. On the way there we ended up taking the Tube stop that let us off right at The Monument. This monument marks very closely, the location of the 1666 Fire of London that destroyed a huge portion of the city. Isaac had just finished a unit centered around the Fire of London and he was desperate to visit anything and everything we could that had to do with it. Needless to say, he was VERY excited to climb to the top of the Monument. And so we did. There are 257 stairs to the top. And the three bigs did every.single.one. Leila got a ride on Dadam's back, otherwise it would have taken us three days to get to the top. The view from the top was beautiful and after we got back down, we found the street sign for Pudding Lane - the street where the fire began. Documentation by photograph completed, we marched on to the Tower of London.
Unfortunately, Tuesday was a bitter cold day. I think the high was -4 C. It was FREEZING. We tried to take a tour, but just standing and listening to the Yeoman Warder turned out to be too damn cold. So we broke off, got some lunch and tried to warm up. After that we headed to the White Tower and saw an absolutely fascinating exhibit about Henry VIII's armor. He had many sets of armor made during his years and it was amazing to see the changes his body went through. The exhibit also addressed what he liked to do in his spare time, other than kill his wives, and talked about the weaponry of the time. Henry was obsessed with firearms, among other things, and there were quite a few experimental firearms in the exhibit. There was a badly mangled three barreled cannon/gun and some rather interesting leather shields with guns mounted in them. The exhibit was due to close in three days and so we were very lucky to have seen it. It's the first time that all the items had been on display together.
We then went and toured the tower where the Royal Jewels are held. It was interesting to see. They are very ornate. I'm not sure the kids were all that taken with the whole thing. They are just lots of sparkly bits with pretty fabric thrown in.
We saw the Bloody Tower and read about the many famous prisoners who were there. I think that Elie and Isaac grasped that people were held there as prisoners, but I knew that much of the other information had gone over their heads when Isaac said "Now why was this called the Bloody Tower again?"
Wednesday was a much warmer day, thank goodness. We toured the Tower of London Bridge and got to see the history of its creation and the amazing engineering that went into it. It is a beautiful bridge and it was so fun to see it from the inside. Talia even commented that evening how much she had enjoyed it. "My favorite part today was seeing the bridge. It was so beautiful!" We went down to the foot of the bridge and got to see the old boilers and steam engines. They are still in working order, but due to the Clean Air Act of 1972, they were forced to switch to electricity. They are beautiful and are still running a bit, so that visitors can see how they work.
Visiting the bridge brought us to the side of the Thames where the HMS Belfast sits. She is a warship of the British Navy who fought in WWII and made voyages from the Arctic Circle all the way down to Australia. It had several different exhibits inside. There was one about life on the Belfast, another about the history of shipbuilding and a third about the voyages the Belfast had made. Unfortunately, they had restrictions on who could visit the boiler room, so we couldn't go down there. But we thoroughly explored every other section. The kids really enjoyed seeing the galley, where there was fake food set up to show what it would have looked like when the ship was on a voyage. The part I liked best was where the battle that the Belfast had with a German ship was detailed. Almost the whole battle was fought in pitch dark, as it was November and they were above the Arctic Circle! There was only two hours of weak daylight. It was the radar of the British that won the battle and saved the day.
Today we knew would be a bit more difficult to find open attractions, as it is Christmas Eve. We have been warned that the city shuts.down. on Christmas Day, and by all accounts it seems as though that is accurate. None of the public transportation runs and all the stores/restaurants/museums that we have come across are closed. No matter, we need a day off tomorrow. But today we had one last, cram-as-much-in-as-we-can day.
We started off this morning at St. Pauls Cathedral, the original of which was burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The building that stands there today, replaced the one that was destroyed and took 35 years to complete. It was a beautiful and amazing building. It is also HUGE. There is no photography allowed within the cathedral, which is a shame because it is really cool inside. We were all allowed to climb all 530 stairs to the very top of the dome, which we did. It was a long climb, but well worth it and really cool when we got to the top and looked around outside. I admit, I had two panic moments - one on the stairs and one bit of vertigo outside on the balcony at the very top. But I swallowed hard and retained control of myself. Shew. The kids did a great job and were super troopers the whole time.
After a bit of lunch, we headed off to do some uber cool brass rubbings. A nice break for the kids who got to do some hands on stuff AND get to be creative. We walked from there, through Trafalgar Square, down The Mall (which looked a LOT like the Mall in DC), and down to Buckingham Palace. The kids ran free through the park and very much enjoyed just running around and being wild.
To round out our day, we went to The Queen's Gallery, which is attached to the side of Buckingham Palace. It is a very small, but very elegant collection of furniture and art. The children were fascinated with the palace as we walked by. "Are those the Queen's cars?" - Isaac "Does the Queen go into the museum whenever she wants to, because it is attached to her house?" - Elie I think that all our favorites were the amazing collection of Faberge they have; animals carved from jade and other stones, two Faberge eggs, tiny photo frames and a beautiful collection of plants and flowers. The kids behaved spectacularly and we were both so proud of how they behaved in the galleries.
London has been such an adventure! The kids have become Tube Riding Professionals, learned to read the map of the Underground, been in museums, run in parks and had a great time. Dadam and I have also had a wonderful time sharing all this adventure with them. Of course, we are tired of asking them not to rub their faces, heads, hands, gloves etc on the display glass. And we might be a wee bit exhausted of asking them not to lay on the explanations so that other people can read them at the same time. But we are not tired of their insight and adorable questions.
Tomorrow a quiet day is on tab. We might take a stroll down to the Charles Dickens Museum, one of the only museums open in London on Christmas Day. Then on Saturday we are going to do some more poking around near Big Ben, Parliament and Buckingham Palace, with a grand finale of riding the London Eye in the afternoon!