Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Half Term In London - Touring Tuesday

One thing I really like about British schools is the half-term break.  I suppose I never grew out of the "how many days until the next vacation" countdowns.  Even as a teacher I secretly knew how many days it was until the next day off or better yet week off.  

In Britain the kids get at least a week off during each term (autumn, spring, and summer).  They get almost two weeks off around Easter.  While some of our American friends might be jealous of this time off, you must remember that we only had 41 days of a summer break.  Now, the difficult part of managing this time off is that the entire country has a week off for half term as well.  Hotel and airfare prices reflect this.  Unfair?  Yes, however there is nothing we can do about it.

Matt's work schedule did not allow for him to take time off this half term, so our options were a little different.  I am game for taking my kids on unknown adventures, but I was not interested in navigating a new country & language alone.  So I decided to take the kids on adventures in London.  This October half term was blessed with the most amazing weather.  We debated pulling our or shorts one day, but we resisted.  

Our school decided to tack two institute days on the end of half term so we benefitted from extra days on our break.  All in we had 11 days of togetherness.

Saturday - Youngest Kiddo attended a birthday party for a classmate.  I was happy to attend with him so I could catch up with some of my mum friends from school.  After the party we met Matt & Oldest Kiddo at the mall for some good old 'Merican Five Guys burgers and free flowing Coca-Cola.

Sunday - Our clocks fell back one hour last night so everyone was up and ready to go this morning.  Well after our weekly pain au chocolat that is.  Matt and Oldest Kiddo went out for some together time to Covent Garden while I hung at home with Youngest Kiddo.

Monday - The kids and I ventured far out of our west London confines to the Horniman Museum out in the south east end of town.  I've had this museum on my list for quite some time.  The museum's must see is the over stuffed walrus.  The taxidermist who stuffed the walrus did not know that the species is naturally wrinkly and he filled it to the brim with whatever taxidermists use to stuff animals.  If you did not know that the walrus was overstuffed, it would not really stand out to you, but it was funny to see.  This museum also had an aquarium for an additional small fee.  Besides the walrus, our favorite part of the museum was the gardens.  The Horniman Museum has an edible garden, medicinal garden, fields for running, a sound garden, and great views of the city.  

I don't want to hang out with this guy
Tuesday - The warm weather continued on Tuesday, and we took another trek out of west London to Greenwich.  The boy was thrilled to take the DLR on our journey.  In February we visited this borough and marveled at the Prime Meridian. Today we visited the free Maritime Museum and ate falafel & empanadas from the market food stalls on benches by the River Thames.  

Wednesday - Rain was in the forecast for the entire day so it was a good time to go to the cinema (British for the movies).  Plus I think the kids were worn out from all the walking on Monday & Tuesday.  We decided to partake in the cinema's £1.75 feature of How to Train Your Dragon 2.  We'd seen it before so no one minded that the theatre was full of crying babies and wandering toddlers.  After the movie the kids picked out some new fall clothes as the weather will change to dark, cloudy, and rainy before we know it.    

Thursday - Big kudos to Matt for stumbling across the free pumpkin carving at Kings Cross Station.  The station created an installation of 3,000 carved pumpkins to be lit on the terraced stairs by the canal.  The kids each chose a huge pumpkin and created their design.  I have to say that this was the best way to carve a pumpkin since the mess was not at my house.  I was surprised that Youngest Kiddo wasn't upset that we did not bring his pumpkin home.  Some of the pumpkins on display were very creative.

Friday - This was another low key day as Youngest Kiddo was in a foul mood.  After lunch he'd perked up enough to take the bus to run a few errands.  He was really excited when we ran into one of the teaching assistants from his former class.  The kids did not trick or treat as they really did not care either way about going.  Plus, there was only a handful of houses on our street that participated.  Truthfully, I did not feel comfortable taking them to get candy from people we don't know.  Back at The 407 we knew what houses to visit and which ones to skip.  Both kiddos were happy with the candy I bought at the store for them.  

Saturday - I found a source for, what I hope will be, quality tortillas and salsa.  The shop is located near the Portobello Road Market.  As we had never visited the market, today's sunshine was the perfect reason for a detour.  Whoa.  The streets were crazy packed.  With both kids in tow it was not a pleasant experience.  Maybe the market was busy because of half term or the gorgeous weather brought people out of the woodwork, but it wasn't what I thought it would be.  It's nothing like Hugh Grant showed us in Notting Hill.  I'll give it another go in a few weeks just in case our first go was an anomaly.  On Saturday night, we left the kids home with a babysitter for a little shopping and a little wine with a kid-free dinner.
Sunday - Again, kudos to Matt for finding free kids admission for the observation deck of The Shard.  This skyscraper is the place for an amazing view of London.  The typical admission (£24.95/adult and £18.95/kid) is out of my comfort zone for what you are really getting, but free kids admission was worth it.  Unfortunately it was a rainy morning and the rain drops messed with the camera's ability to focus.  We rounded off our outing with burgers, cheese fries, and shakes from Shake Shack at Covent Garden.

Monday - Most of the London schools went back today, but we still have two bonus teacher institute days.  I think days of go-go-go finally took their toll on all of us.  Youngest Kiddo slept until 9:30!  The rain falling on the windows and the visible breath of the neighbors walking by did not encourage motivation to get outside. Instead, we decided to don comfy clothes, play Legos, drink hot chocolate, and watch a movie.  

Tuesday - On our last day of half term, we spent a few hours at the Natural History Museum.  The kids' last visit here was on a weekend with every other family in London.  Today, they experienced the exhibits without queues for the dinosaurs or masses of prams (British for stroller).

We had an errand to run down near Knightsbridge Station, so we walked down to Harrod's to see their Christmas display.  Not as posh as I expected, but maybe I missed something in the store's labyrinth of rooms.  Oldest Kiddo was excited to see the Paddington Bear outside of the store that was designed by Emma Watson (you know her as Herminone Granger of Harry Potter).  

We made it back home just before the rain started.  We will make bangers & mash for dinner so the kids have full bellies for a good night's sleep.  Back to school tomorrow!

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