Friday, 16 August 2013

London Excursion

James McNeill Whistler:
Nocturne: The Thames at Battersea
As Piglet is of that age when she can appreciate such things, we took her up to London for a few days, and I thought I would note here some helpful tips for others intending to head up to the big smoke.

I had taken her up for a flying impromptu visit previously during one half term week. We meant to do a number of museums but the coach (booking at the last minute meant the coach was half as expensive as the train) went past the Natural History Museum and when we saw the queues outside, we were both a bit dismayed. "Are we going to do any shopping on this trip?" Piglet asked in a quavery voice. 'That's my baby!' I thought. We had a fab time tootling round Regent Street (Liberty's and Hamleys Toy Shop), I showed her Leicester Square explaining that many films première there, and she particularly enjoyed Chinatown with all the great little shops full of fish fountains and Hello Kitty Lucky Cat figures. (I'm afraid I refused to buy that one.)

OK, so lesson 1 is Book in advance, LOL. We would have got really decent train tickets for a good price if we had done that. The train journey is much quicker than the coach, much more comfortable and from where we travel, you end up in Paddington. There is an excellent selection of places to eat in Paddington Station, including Boots and M&S with sandwiches if your budget is not up to Yo! Sushi and stone oven pizzas.

Actually lessons 4, 6 and 9 are all Book in advance!

And lessons 2, 3 and 5 are Get there early.

Read about the essential  phrase
book at The Trek Collective
Forewarned about the horrors of the Natural History Museum, we showed up 10 minutes before opening time. There was already a substantial queue forming outside the gate. Next time I will probably go along half an hour before time. Or in winter - but not during half term. People were being let in in small batches and while we waited our turn to go in, attendants cheered us on by giving us information about what was inside, and selling us guidebooks (proceeds to support the Museum's research as well as exhibitions) in English, French, Spanish ... and Klingon.

Details at Design Mom
Personally I have to say that the dinosaur show leaves me cold. Lots of bones and no Le Creuset casserole dishes! Oh the horror. It's very crowded and reminded me of going to see one of Salvador Dali's houses. You shuffle along in a queue taking a look at the exhibit you are next to and not spending too long about it as that holds up the people behind you. However Piglet enjoyed it and most children will be desperate to see it. If you must go, Book in advance. You will get a timeslot when you can go, then you bypass the HOUR LONG QUEUE (I am not joking) to go to a small side entrance, and get let in straightaway.

We had providently bought sandwiches to take along from the Tesco Express by our hotel. When I tried to eat at the British Museum on my previous trip I was appalled at the crowded and littered tables (almost impossible to find somewhere to sit and eat) and at the poor range of food for children. Cafés at the Natural History Museum seemed much bigger and cleaner, but the food still looked geared to adults, surprisingly, and the nice cakes were so expensive even I baulked at getting one.

I was glad we'd taken our own lunch as we discovered the Natural History Museum has an excellent picnic area, designed for school trips, in the basement. There were many clear tables with comfortable seating and a small café counter for cups of tea and coffee if desired.

While walking to this area, I also spotted a room at the side where exploration is encouraged. Here Museum staff are on hand to answer questions but basically children (and grownups, LOL) are allowed to pick things up, handle them, put them under microscopes and magnifying glasses, take basic notes and draw them. There is everything from a stuffed fox to stones with fossils in, a turtle shell, bones, tiny beetles in blocks of perspex. Piglet really enjoyed this interactive room and we were able to just sit at the side and let her have fun.

You can see The Shard jutting up over these medieval buildings. 

Quoth the raven never more ...
(two ravens on the railing).
We also did The Tower of London on this trip (making sure to Book in advance). It was much more fun than I'd expected, it's almost like a small town with cobbled walkways between buildings so you can move around looking at the views in an enjoyable way. The Fella had read in a guidebook we bought that it's advisable to go through the Crown Jewels early to avoid queues so we tootled straight there. There was no queue and we were able to move easily round the exhibits, seeing everything we wanted to clearly. (I still think it's a bit much that the ceremonial robe we saw had a rose, a thistle and a shamrock on it but no leek! I mean I could've added that nicely to the dinosaur bones in my soup stock.) We came out and went for a coffee and by the time we were done with our coffees, there was a massive hour-long queue for the geegaws which only got bigger as time went on. We probably ought to have run straight over to the torture chamber as later that also filled up but we skipped on it, contenting ourselves instead with buying a cardboard working model of the executioner cutting someone's head off. (This is for demonstrations in lectures of early methods of crime control, not for Piglet to play with.)

Mmm, the baby octopii!
Oh what a shame nobody else liked
them and I had to eat them all ...
When we ate out, we did this mostly in Chinatown as we know we can get a cheap and enjoyable meal there. Well ... relying on a web-based review site did lead us to one Dim Sum restaurant of surpassing deliciousness and amazing expense, LOL. However if you go by your nose and have noodle soups (and don't have two glasses of Prosecco), you can eat really well and cheaply here - right in the centre of London. If you are really poverty-stricken, try the pork buns or pork and vegetable buns available from takeaway bakeries; their sumptuous tastiness is only surpassed by their cheapness.

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