Category Archives: In London

Ten tips for travelling with kids

Although I have travelled many times to conferences and for work, my trip with Oliver to Europe was the first time one of my children accompanied me. Now that Oliver and I are well and truly home, here are my top tips for a great work or holiday travel experience with a kid (with the caveat that I travelled with just one kid; a pretty easy going 8-year-old kid at that). These things worked for us:

1. Maintain bedtime

In England, Denmark and the Netherlands, the sun didn't go down until very late; after 9pm. In fact, we travelled just before and after the summer solstice, so during the longest days of the year. It was tempting to make use of these long days. But on the advice of my friend Jennie (who recently travelled to London with her similarly aged daughter), I mostly maintained Oliver's usual bedtime; around 7-8pm with only a few exceptions. When we first arrived in London, jet lag meant Oliver was ready for bed even earlier. But after he was mostly over his jet lag, I still tried to stick with early nights. This became difficult in Rotterdam where conference activities finished late and everyone then headed to dinner. We stayed out late our first night in Rotterdam (bed at 10.30pm) but on subsequent nights we skipped these dinners and ordered room service. In return, Oliver was fairly well rested for the busy days and the cumulative stress and exhaustion of travelling. Lights out at 8 o'clock was a little boring for me once I was over the jet lag, but I just wrote our blog or watched TV on my iPad (Season 1 of House of Cards!).

 

2. Let the kid decide

Whenever possible I let Oliver decide what we would do and see. In London there were a couple of things I definitely wanted to do, such as the Tower of London. But otherwise, I suggested options to Oliver and let him choose. For instance, in London we went to the London Zoo two afternoons in a row. Oliver loved it and wanted to go back. Once in the zoo, he cycled over and over between visits to the gorillas, monkeys, and meerkats, with a little of the tigers, african hunting dogs, aquarium, and reptiles. This is what he wanted to do and I let him, rather than pressure him to go to new places I thought he would like. He's still talking about the meerkats! A similar thing happened in Rotterdam. One morning he went with Nina, John and Doris to an architecture museum. The next morning when I had free time he didn't want to go somewhere else, but back to the same museum to show me what he had seen.

 

3. Don't crowd the days

When travelling to new places it is tempting to squeeze in lots of sights and activities; after all, how soon will we be back in Denmark? But a string of long days wears everyone out. We tried not to do too many things in one day and tried not to feel obligated to stay at any one place. For example, one morning in London Oliver and I visited the British Museum. You could spend days there. But Oliver was ready to leave after 90 minutes; so we left. We missed things, but when I abandoned any idea of a list of “must do” sights, it didn't matter. Given this is what worked best for us, next time I wouldn't buy the London Pass. It's really only value for money when you do a number of things each day.

 

4. Allow plans to change

Some days I made plans in my head of our likely itinerary. But then it didn't pan out. In London we abandoned our plan to go to Legoland Windsor after I read terrible reviews on TripAdvisor. Another day we planned to go to the Tower of London but my day pass for the train was off peak, meaning I couldn't use it until after 9.30am. So instead we wandered to Buckingham Palace and got sidetracked by Churchill's War Rooms. We also planned to take a tour of Chelsea Football Stadium, but then Oliver realised the football season was over and a tour meant just seeing the stadium not the team. Our plans changed again. I realised that as long as we were having fun it didn't matter if we missed some things I originally planned.

A somewhat related issue was money spent on unfamiliar food or drinks. In Aarhus, for instance, Oliver and I took a break in a cafe and ordered a skim milk hot chocolate and a smoothie (or so we thought). But things are made and taste differently in different countries and Oliver didn't like his drink. He tried it but didn't want to finish it. I learned not to sweat money “wasted” on such things (see point 9 below).

 

5. Remember “trival” things can be just as fun

Amidst our busy travel and conference schedule, Oliver enjoyed many simple things. One morning in London he asked to go feed the ducks in Hyde Park. All this cost us was a half a loaf of bread we didn't plan to eat anyway. In return Oliver spent a wonderful hour in the park. He also enjoyed learning the London Underground, meeting and patting people's dogs in the various parks, kicking a cobblestone around the streets of Aarhus, and sitting in cafe windows and watching people go by (noticing differences between them and people at home). Unplanned, seemingly trivial activities often were just as fun as the big outings and sights. They certainly were a lot cheaper.

 

6. Your company and attention are worth as much as the sights you will see

Oliver was four when his sister, Louisa, was born. Since she was born he has fought to focus some attention away from her — she has been quite demanding — and back to him. To my mind, one of the very best parts of our trip was the one-on-one time that Oliver and I spent together. I know he enjoyed almost everything we saw and did together but I'm pretty sure he enjoyed as much the fact that he had (almost) my undivided attention. I loved when he said to me after our trip to the Natural History Museum in London that his favourite part of the day was spending it with me!

 

7. Schedule a rest day

I think it is really important to schedule down time. In London, between morning and afternoon activities we often went back to the hotel for an hour or so rest. I find travelling exhausting and I've travelled a great deal. It must be incredibly overwhelming and tiring for kids. In Aarhus we spent an entire day — the Sunday — doing almost nothing. This allowed us to recharge before we raced off the next day to Legoland and then on to Rotterdam for our last, hectic leg of the trip.

 

8. Watch for signs of jet lag meltdown (tired, hungry)

Both from Sydney to London and from Rotterdam to Sydney, we travelled approximately 30 hours door to door and crossed many, many time zones. This is hard enough on an adult, let alone on a kid. During the trip I was vigilant for signs of “jet lag meltdown”. Sometimes Oliver didn't realise that he was hungry or tired because his body clock was so out of whack (although he slept brillantly). He just felt unhappy. So we made a pact to be patient with one another when we were feeling a bit cranky; I made sure Oliver got as much sleep as possible; and I encouraged him to eat when he might be hungry. For breakfasts, I bought simple food from the corner store to eat when he first woke up (which in London was quite early) then we had a second, later breakfast when we were out and about. So my advice is to plan for the hunger and tiredness and count to ten!

 

9. Find familiar foods

Oliver was happy to try new foods. He especially enjoyed the Dutch pancakes that the breakfast chef (who took a bit of a shine to Oliver) made for him in Rotterdam. But he also appreciated familiar foods, particularly since his eating schedule was thrown entirely off kilter by jetlag. In London, in Marks and Spencer, Boots or Pret a Manger, we easily found ham and cheese sandwiches and apples (two favourites), which helped his transition to the new time and environment.

 

10. Choose hotels with wi-fi (and bring a device or two)

We spent a lot of time in transit and Oliver spent a lot of time in conference venues. He maintained his good humour in part by listening to music, reading on, or playing on his iPad mini. Occasionally he wanted to download new things or to play online. In Aarhus, he was lucky to find another boy at the conference and they played side by side on their iPads while I was giving my talk. So I was pleased and mildly surprised to find that every hotel we stayed in and the conference venues all had free wi-fi for an unlimited number of devices. This contrasts with my most recent stay in the US, where wi-fi cost me $16 a day for one device. Free wi-fi also made my blogging much easier. Many European hotels include free wi-fi. It is worth looking out for it when booking accommodation.

 

So those are my top tips. What are your best tips for a great trip with kids?

 

Dear Erika and Joe …

Thanks for your message.

Mum and I are staying at the Hotel Indigo in Paddington, London. Mum chose it because it is right near the train station. So it was easy to get here from the airport and easy to go catch the Tube each day.

The hotel is nice but our room is much smaller than Australian hotel rooms. They are my favourite. Mum thinks the room in Denmark might be bigger. And she says that rooms in London are usually pretty squishy.

We have a room with a big bed, one chair, a TV, a nice bathroom. But my favourite part is the bar fridge full of free drinks!

I'm having fun but I do miss my friends and family and home (especially when I am tired). I miss Louisa and Dad. And I miss my school friends. And I miss you too. But London is awesome.

See you soon.

Love Ollie.

 

On the train to the Tower of London

Tuesday morning Oliver and I caught the Tube from Paddington to Tower Hill. It's fun getting used to the different Underground lines and their directions. To know if you are getting on the right train you need to know the name and/or colour of the line you are travelling on, the direction of travel (east or west, north or south), and the end point of the train (because they terminate at different places and/or take different branches of the same line). So to get to the Tower of London we had to watch for a Circle Line (yellow), eastbound train terminating at Mansion House. This trip had a slight trick because we had to get off at Edgware Road and cross the platform. The great thing is that you don't really need to know the times of trains; they come frequently (unless there is a disruption on the line). When lines are closed or disrupted, you can try to find your way to your destination via a different line. Bit like a puzzle.

The Underground, Westminster Station

We were glad we made time on this trip for the Tower of London since I have never been and it is fabulous! The Tower of London is an ancient royal castle and set of fortifications. It has seen some of the bloodiest of English history.

Traitors to the Crown would be brought into the Tower by river, often by night, via the Traitor's Gate. And then either imprisoned in the Tower or beheaded.

The Traitor's Gate, Tower of London

We saw an exhibition of instruments of torture, which supposedly were not extensively used in Britain. The name of the “Bloody Tower”, one of the structures we climbed inside (and the scene of the murder of the two boy princes some time around 1483, or so legend says), might give lie to this claim (and of course we all remember Braveheart!)

Instruments of torture in the Tower: the rack and shackles

The Tower is not one building or tower but a whole set of buildings within two rings of defensive walls and a moat. Many of the buildings date from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, although they have been remodeled and rebuilt over centuries.

The White Tower (top left), the building that houses the Crown Jewels (top right), big and little armour (bottom left and right)

We also saw the Crown Jewels. No pictures allowed unfortunately. These are housed behind 1200 kg steel doors, in a series of rooms that form an enormous safe. I didn't know this, but the original Crown Jewels were destroyed in the English Civil War of 1649 and created anew after the restoration of the monarchy and of Charles II in 1660.

Oliver was especially taken with an exhibition of armour and weapons. We saw Henry VIII's armour, lance, swords and other weapons as well as a suit of armour that Louisa might enjoy wearing. It suddenly occurred to me that the suit of armour you always see in English stately homes (or period dramas set in such homes or castles etc) actually might be armour that once was used and then passed down through generations of the family. I thought suits of armour were just an old fashioned piece of home decoration! Anyway, we came away from the Tower of London (gift shop) with a new battle axe.

Oliver helping Sir Isaac Newton with a tricky problem re heat exchange (left) and putting into practice some new moves learned at the Tower (right)

At the end of our visit we caught a cruise boat from Tower Pier, just under the Tower Bridge, to Westminster Pier, underneath Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

Tower Bridge (top), Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament (bottom)

It was a wonderful morning and I would love to return one day and take a Yeoman Warder tour (and do the other top ten, highly recommended things). Oliver prefers his own “tours” to guided or formal tours and I am sure that it would take many visits to do full justice to the Tower of London.

Tonight we are all packed for our departure in the morning. Oliver is deep asleep after three and a half hectic days. Things will be a little quieter once we arrive in Denmark. We will post more updates from there!

A model of the Tower of London; larger than I expected (the real version that is)

 

Jet lag and June weather

Oliver and I have been waking at 5.30am since we arrived in London. This will come in handy when we need to be on the Heathrow Express back to the airport tomorrow morning.

But it means we are pretty tired by 6 or 7pm at night. Last night Oliver turned off his light at 7.30pm (after reading a Horrible History book about World War II, which he bought at the Churchill War Museum yesterday) and was asleep within one minute. I was asleep not long after.

This means that we haven't been making much of the long London summer nights; it's still light outside when we go to sleep. Not sure how we will go when we need to stay up for conference dinners in Denmark!

But then it's not very summery here right now. Yesterday the top temperature was maybe 21 or 22 and today it might get to 24. There's a cold bite to the air. Martin Conway told us that summers in England have changed over the last 10 years, getting progressively colder and wetter. The prediction this week is for rain every day. But then we're heading to Denmark tomorrow so it won't worry us!

To take advantage of the jetlag, this morning we left the hotel at 7.30am (after Skyping Louisa and her nanny, Jennifer; hi Louisa and Jennifer!!!). We grabbed a bag of bread we'd bought on Saturday and went to feed the birds in the Italianate Garden in Hyde Park. Oliver was soon surrounded by ducks and pigeons. There also was a beautiful swan who seemed to like bread too!

Oliver feeding birds in the Italianate Garden

You'll notice in the photos that Oliver is well rugged up. It was about 13 or 14 degrees Celsius.

The swan enjoyed the bread as well

Oliver had a wonderful time and has ticked off 1 of 4 things he wants to do today: ducks, Chelsea tour, Tower of London and back to the Zoo, which he loved yesterday.

Views from Queen Victoria's garden

Views from Queen Victoria's garden

 

A dash to the London Zoo

This afternoon we planned to dash over to the London Zoo for an hour or two. I read in my guide that the closest station is Baker Street (just a few steps from Sherlock Holmes' home, which we passed on the way). Baker Street is only three stops from Paddington, so I thought “easy”!

But when we got there we found out we needed to take a bus from the station to the Zoo. But we couldn't find the bus stop, despite asking a very nice man in a policeman's costume standing outside 221B Baker Street (as it happens his information was wrong so clearly he's not a real policeman!). The fake policeman told us it was a quick 5-10 minute walk to the Zoo through Regent's Park and Primrose Hill (I was half expecting to see Jude Law any moment, who lives in the area apparently). It is a lovely walk through Regent's Park but more like 20-30 minutes! London has many quite wild spaces close to the city, which help to make it a really liveable city. If you've had enough of the crush on the Underground coming home from work (which we experienced on the way home from the Zoo) you can escape to the top of a hill or the middle of a meadow.

Finally we arrived at the Zoo. Forgetting our sore feet for a moment, it was worth it. I have never been to a zoo when it is pretty much empty of people. Because we got there so late there were no crowds at all. So we could get up close to all the animals (except for the ones that bite). London Zoo has some spectacular new display habitats, including Tiger Territory (with two tigers) and Gorilla Kingdom (with five gorillas, one of which looked incredibly unimpressed with us as we looked at him). It also has some lovely old buildings, including the Reptile House and the Aquarium.

The Reptile House at the London Zoo

Oliver had lots of fun and it was interesting to compare the animals on display with those at Taronga Zoo. Both beautiful old institutions. An afternoon well spent.

Oliver at the London Zoo

Tomorrow we will catch up with Martin Conway again and we'll attempt to fit a tour of Chelsea Stadium and The Tower of London into one day.

 

Monday in London

We changed our plans for today. Oliver and I were planning to visit Windsor Castle and Legoland Windsor, but I read some dire reviews of Legoland on Trip Adviser. So we decided to go to the Tower of London instead. This meant a Tube ride from Paddington to Tower Hill. But because I have off peak travel cards, we can't get on the Tube until after 9.30am. So we started walking towards Buckingham Palace with the plan to walk there and then catch the Tube to the Tower after 9.30.

We never made it to the Tower. We'll save it for tomorrow. Instead, we spent the day walking through London and we covered lots of ground.

First we walked from Paddington down to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Hyde Park is enormous and reminds me of New York's Central Park or Sydney's Centennial Park. Lots of joggers, people walking dogs, people riding bikes (everywhere without helmets including in the London traffic; madness!) and even some horse riders. We walked past the Italianate Garden, which Prince Albert designed and built for Queen Victoria. Beautiful!

The Italianate Garden in Hyde Park

Then we walked along the Serpentine, a man made lake that winds throughout the park. And on to Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch, which is home to the moving Australian War Memorial. It's a sweeping wall of grey granite into which has been carved the names of the home towns of all those Australians who died in World Wars I and II. The carving has been done in such a way that some of the towns spell out the locations of our famous (or infamous) battles, such as Gallipoli, Pozieres and Kokoda.

The Australian War Memorial at Marble Arch

We then walked down Constitution Hill to Buckingham Palace. Big crowds here. We amused ourselves watching the guards parade around for a while and Oliver found another naked statue to laugh at. He also threw some pence into the fountain for good luck.

A guard on the move at Buckingham Palace

Views of Buckingham Palace

We wandered through St James Park and on to the Churchill War Rooms. These are a set of underground bunkers from which Churchill directed British and Allied forces during World War II, especially during the Blitz. Oliver found these fascinating. We used a great kids' audio guide as we ducked in and out of the tiny rooms, which seemed to have housed the most enormous workforce under incredibly difficult conditions. Highly recommended.

The Churchill War Rooms. On the audio this guy threatens to kill anyone who tries to get into the Cabinet Room

The Churchill Museum and War Rooms

Our last few stops this morning were Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament — a quick gander before we jumped back onto the Tube — and a return visit to Hamelys Toy Store at Oliver's request.

A view to Big Ben just about to chime 12 o'clock

By this time we were starving and so followed Karen G's advice and ate at Pret a Manger before heading back to our hotel. We are resting up now before heading out to visit the London Zoo for an hour or so.

I'm impressed with how willing Oliver is to keep walking. We've walked a lot these last two days. My feet are sore!

 

Sunday afternoon

After lunch today we caught the Tube from Kings Cross Station to South Kensington and the Natural History Museum.

I don't know how I managed to miss this on all of my visits, especially since it is right next door to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which I have visited. The Natural History Museum is WONDERFUL as so many of you told us. It is in a magnificent Victorian building, opened in 1881.

Outside the Natural History Museum

Waiting in the queue

The inside is just as spectacular as the outside, with huge vaulted ceilings, sweeping staircases, and bridges across the open space two or three stories high. Very Harry Potter!

The foyer is dominated by a large dinosaur skeleton at one end and a statue of Charles Darwin at the other end. The Museum is testament to the influence of Darwin's theory of evolution and natural historians' zeal for collecting (interestingly, I didn't see any mention of Alfred Russell Wallace who developed a theory of evolution simultaneously but independent of Darwin; you can read all about it in Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction by David Quammen; I highly recommend it). One room had display case after display case of rocks and minerals from all around the world (and from outside this world in the form of meteorites), all lovingly catalogued.

The foyer of the Natural History Museum

Oliver's favourite part was a display on the evolution of man and our nearest animal relatives. He spent ages reading the displays and trying to work out if the evidence meant that we are more closely related to chimpanzees or to gorillas.

An exhibition on the evolution of man

Later we visited the dinosaur display. Oliver was especially taken with a massive diorama with an animatronic T-Rex that moved and roared. He thought it hilarious that a previous child visitor had lobbed a toy saxophone into the display so Oliver could say: “mum, look what has survived from the time of the dinosaurs … toy saxophones”!

The T-Rex and his saxophone

Both Oliver and I LOVED the Natural History Museum!

As we caught the Tube home from Gloucester Road to Paddington, I asked Oliver which was his favourite part of the day. He said: “the Natural History Museum”. Then he stopped, corrected himself and said: “Actually no. It was spending the day with you.”

Looking from above in the Natural History Museum

Tomorrow we are off to Windsor Castle and Legoland.

See you soon!

20130617-050145.jpg