Wednesday, 25 February 2015

London Calling

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the things I love about living in England is that there is a plethora of neat places to visit that are only two hours away.  We can pretty much take off driving in any direction and end up at a castle, beautiful estate home, national park, the ocean, gardens, ancient ruins AND we can drive two hours south and be in one of the great cities in the world – London!

On a bridge over the Thames with Big Ben in the background.
Last week was midterm break for the girls.  No school for the week.  Thank goodness because I think the entire town needed a break after the scarlet fever epidemic that swept through the week before.  We spent the first half of the week relaxing at home and taking a break from the busy school schedule.  But we couldn’t stay home for the entire week.  We are only living in Europe for two years after all and we feel the need to take advantage of every opportunity we have to do some traveling and see as much of this beautiful continent as we can.  This time, we decided to keep our feet on English ground and headed to London for a few days. 

I love London!  You know those cheesy t-shirts you see with this slogan on it?  I’m going to get one because I really do love London.  It’s a huge, bustling, beautiful mixture of old and new.   

The old with the new being constructed behind it.
You can walk down busy Regent Street in Soho passing high end shops like Burberry with big, red double-decker buses whizzing past and then turn a corner onto a quiet, quant, cobblestone side street filled with bookstores, pastry shops and small restaurants, and a few moments later you are walking under hundreds of brightly colored lanterns hanging high above the street in Chinatown.  One minute you are walking along museum row passing huge building after huge building not sure which one to duck into because there are so many to choose from, and the next thing you know you're lost in Hyde Park wandering the trails through the trees and grassy lawn with no buildings in site.  And the people watching – oh my, the people watching.  More than once I had to tell the girls not to stare, that we would discuss it later.

So here we go – our first day in London!

After a two-hour drive Thursday morning, we started our visit in a coffee shop in the suburb of Ealing where we decided to stay for the three nights we would be visiting London.  Don't worry - we weren't shacking up at the coffee shop, but at a hotel down the street.  We had just ducked in here for a cappuccino and a sandwich before heading into the city.  We found some seats downstairs where the chairs are upholstered in coffee sacks.  Wish I could get one of those home with me to Indiana.  While London is a beautiful vibrant city, it is also a very expensive city to spend a night in.  That's why we decided to stay just outside the city in a wonderful neighborhood called Ealing.  Another great thing about London that I did not mention above is it’s public transportation system which is what makes staying outside the city and paying less for a hotel room a viable option.  From our hotel, it was a 10 minute walk to the Underground station (London’s subway system) where we could jump on a train and be dropped off a short time later deep underground in the heart of the city.  The girls loved riding the Underground.  They had been on a subway once before when they were both much younger, but they don’t remember it so this was another new, exciting first for them.  After the first trip, they were pros at jumping on and off the trains with the few seconds you have at each stop.  

The Underground actually starts aboveground when you are outside the city but goes down into the tunnels as you get closer to the center of London.
Our first stop in London – the British Museum, a treasure trove of world art and artifacts.  The building is gigantic.  What should we see first?   

We started off in the Egyptian hall wandering through huge remnants of statues of great Pharaohs. 

Walking through the vast halls you feel like you are in a scene from Indiana Jones.   

If Leah and Ellie stood next to the head below, they would barely reach his ears.  These guys are enormous.

Leah couldn’t wait to see a mummy and they have several at the British Museum – even cat mummies.  Seeing the mummies led to lots of questions about how people were turned into mummies.  I tried explaining that the people weren't actually turned into mummies but that it is how the Egyptians used to preserve and bury the dead.  My explanations were met with vacant stares.  You see, to a seven year old, a mummy isn't a person, it is a monster from a scary movie or cartoon.  With some of the people we would see on the streets of London and some of the exhibits we visited in the Museums, Eric and I got would get lots of questions over the next four days.

We saw the Rosetta Stone, one of the most famous pieces in the Museum, which is a decree written on a stone in Greek, demotic and hieroglyphics which allowed historians to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. 

The Lewis Chessman (photo above) – another one of the most famous artifacts in the Museum because it is one of only a few surviving complete medieval chess sets.  It is suspected that the set was made in Norway during the 12th century.  The set was found in a sand dune on a beach on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, hence the name.  Why they were in a sand dune in Scotland no one knows.  Most of the pieces were carved from walrus ivory, and a few were made from whale teeth. 

We also visits the clock gallery which was filled with all manner of devices purported to keep time.  Some do this well, and others not so well.  Above is Congreve’s Rolling Ball Clock – a gorgeous piece of work but not so good at keeping time.  There is a little ball that rolls back and forth on a zigzagged track.  It takes the ball between 15 seconds to one minute to roll back and worth, hence the reason it doesn’t keep time so well.  But it’s pretty!  

Taking a break from all the walking.  The museum was busy - very busy.  We grabbed a seat where we could.
By the time we left the British Museum, it was dark and raining but the streets of London were still beautiful. 

We were hungry.  I had done my research.  There are thousands of restaurants in London and we wanted to make sure we chose a good one.  Before coming here, I had searched for things to do in London with kids and happened upon the top ten recommended restaurants to visit with children.  One of them was a Belgium restaurant called Belgo Central that was within walking distance of the British Museum.   

The Belgo Central on the left.
Why is it recommended for children?  Well, they did have a good kids menu, and the restaurant is located deep underground where you feel like you are eating in a cave (this is not the place for claustrophobics), and the wait staff are all dressed in long Trappist monk robes.   But I suspect whomever made this top 10 list wasn’t just thinking of the children.   If you remember back to our trip to Belgium in October, Belgium + Trappist monks = GREAT beer!  Eric has been obsessed with Belgium beer ever since and the Belgo Central serves all types of frothy Belgium beer, including my new found favorites, the fruit beers.  I enjoyed two – a cherry beer and a peach beer.  Delicious!

Beer crates outside the entrance of Belgo Central.
Time to head back down into the tunnels of the Underground for the ride back to our hotel.  It was a short day in London.  We hadn't arrived in the city until the middle of the afternoon but we had three more days ahead of us to see the sights.  

It was a bit of a ride back to Ealing, maybe 30 minutes or so, but we didn’t mind.  It was nice to just sit and rest after spending the afternoon at the British Museum and filling our bellies with some hearty Belgium food and drink.  Now, time to rest because tomorrow is another day in London!

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