We spent time revisiting (for me) two places I used to go to with the older boys when we were living around RAF Lakenheath in the early 90s. It was fun to see some of the old places but the base has changed a lot and I didn’t recognize much.
We managed to get tickets to a production of Hamlet in Stratford at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and it was amazing. Incredible performance (modern/kind of set in Africa) and of course the theatre is wonderful. We were high up on tall seats like bar stools but this allowed for full views all around the stage. The kids stayed glued to the entire show.
We did manage to visit Shakespeare’s birth place too and some good food in town but certainly could have stayed longer.
We were thrilled to be able to meet up with Uncle Tim as we have missed him since moving from Dubai (where he lives). We took the train to London and met him at the station where he took us off to a couple of great restaurants (naturally as he’s an executive chef and also used to work in London) for lunch and dinner. We also went to see Phantom of the Opera as Max and Charlotte hadn’t seen it. This was a great show to start their London theatre viewing with as it never fails to impress (and they know the music already).
Later in our trip we went back to London as I just had to see my idol – Michael Crawford who was the first Phantom. We got to see him in a show called The Go-Between. He was on stage the entire couple of hours and sang quite a bit. We were front row and he was amazingly close which was quite exciting (I restrained myself). The show was good and he was incredible.
Trips to London have to include some of the amazing and FREE museums. We spent some time in the Science Museum and the National Gallery, which always amazes me. I love that museums in London are all free. Such a gift with so much to see and do.
Little wet but didn’t dampen the fun
Through our worldschooling group we found a lovely family who wanted to house swap their home in England with ours in Florida. We were thrilled to spend 5 weeks in a town called Saffron Walden, which is about 30 minutes from Cambridge and about an hour, by train from center of London. We swapped cars as well but after one day driving around minuscule roads on the opposite side with a stick shift, I opted for a rental that was automatic. Just too many things to focus on and it’s been years since I had a stick shift and I hated it then!
The house was a 15 minute walk into town which had all the main stores we needed plus plenty of eating spots. A favorite was Tea Amo for tea and sandwiches.
Town description here is from the site below:
Saffron Walden is a delightful medieval market town located in north-west Essex and just 15 miles to the south of Cambridge. It has a rich heritage of old buildings, including the magnificent Jacobian mansion Audley End House and Gardens and St Mary’s Church, the largest and one of the most beautiful parish churches in Essex. On the north side of town is Bridge End Garden, a restored Victorian garden of great charm, which contains a wonderful yew hedge maze and sunken Dutch Garden.
A market has been held here since 1141, and market days are now Tuesdays and Saturdays with shoppers enjoying browsing and buying goods from a variety of market stalls. Beyond the market place, there are many independent shops and eating places to choose from.
We drove and parked nearer to the main shopping area and then set off up the hill to visit the castle. I’ve spent various times there but when living in Scarborough you tend to pick warm and dry days unlike this trip. It did stop raining when we got into the main part of the castle thankfully and we had about an hour of dryness but it was quite windy and cool. Still the views from there are amazing and it is easy to see why this has been a castle/military post from early bronze age to Romans, Vikings, Saxons and even WWI. They found a bronze age sword there a few years ago but only the replica is in Scarborough with the main one in the British Museum so we decided to look it up when we were there a couple of days later. The Viking history was neat to read about and the children were able to make links to York from it.
From there we headed into town and hit the market and shops. The market used to be a big Victorian building that was dark and dingy, filled with stalls of low price items. It was busy and loud – a little daunting for children. Now there is a large lower level with little cafes and antique stores plus the main part is much lighter and airy and things seem very clean and organized. It’s certainly nice to shop there but has lost its edginess!
Ate at a traditional Yorkshire seaside restaurant (the kind of place my grandmother would have sooner starved than allow us go into) and had fish and chips and peas and huge pots of tea. I’m beginning to wonder if peas are the only vegetable we have available in England! Then did some more shopping, as I love Next clothing so wanted to stock up. All the Union Jack clothing and household goods are so neat to see (I was tempted by duvet covers) and it certainly makes you feel patriotic. Even food items are packaged in the flag and there is a huge quest to push everything British. The Jubilee and Olympics are fueling some of it but the trend started a couple of years ago with the recession and drive to go back to some of the “make do and mend” mentality.
We ended up spending another couple of hours down on the beachfront. The bumper cars and arcades were pulling the Littles in. It’s funny because there are no gambling hang ups in England so they merrily popped their 2 pence pieces into slot machines and other type games – seem to be same ones as I did growing up. Ice creams (99s – cone with a Cadbury flake stuck in) are just as good now too.
Tired out we hit Tesco and stocked up on food – ready meals are really good here. I found tea nirvana with the huge amounts of PG Tips and the new flavors (light/strong/hint of early grey…). Sadly Ryan Air dictates I not buy the 500 teabag boxes. We all slept like logs and my grandmother always said you do in Scarborough as it had good sea air.
Well guess what – it’s raining again. Actually it’s rained so much that they are doing emergency rescues of people in Wales and they say flooding is possible all over the south. What fun. We ended up taking a taxi to the Tower of London as it was somewhat within walking distance for us but the rain and tired out children was not fun. No lines to go in plus I’d bought tickets online earlier and only had to pick them up using my credit card that I’d paid with (I was worried as it stated you needed to print out the email but you didn’t — just the credit card). We saved a little money buying online but it was still pricey and yet worth it.
We first did the free tour with a beefeater and she was so much fun – -great sense of humour and good scary stories. I chatted with her later and women have only been allowed to be beefeaters for about five years now and she was one of the first. She spent 22 years in the military and all of them had also been on active service before going through the extensive recruitment process. She said there are about 300 people living in the Tower and some have children and families. What an interesting place to grow up in I would think.
Saw crown jewels, beasts of the tower (I never knew there were lions and other exotic animals there for most of it’s thousand year history), and lots of armor and weapons. I remember dungeons and torture tools from the past but those are not there now – well two things but nothing scary at all. Charlotte has become very fascinated by graffiti in Europe as it’s on so many things but usually is quite artistic rather than simply swear words painted on. In fact the area we are staying in has huge displays and is supposedly a growing arts area with one focus of street art. Anyway she enjoyed the engravings in the rock walls inside the tower – the graffiti etched in by prisoners waiting to die!
We got back on the bus for more touring of London from a dry view! Our main thing was Buckingham Palace but sadly the entire front was blocked off because they were dismantling the stages and seats from the Jubilee concert. So we hit Oxford Street and found lunch and shops again. Very crowded there though and not as pleasant to be in. Ben was admonished loudly for wearing his hood going into a store because of security issues (hmm it was raining outside…) and I questioned why he was forced to remove his hood when half the people shopping were from the Gulf area and women were completely covered from head to foot. I missed good old Scarborough shops (and they were all the same ones really). But except for Oxford Street, all the sites are fun and enjoyable to see.
We had an early start the next day – 04:30 car to drive us back to Stanstead. Ryan Air does not have the choices in times or I would not have gone that early. But the price overruled tiredness and it was an easy trip home as we knew the process.
Set off early to the British Museum – raining of course but that meant it was a good day to be inside. The museum was full but not crowded so enjoyable. Mostly a few British school trips and Americans (same as at the Louvre). Max was excited and really enjoyed the Egyptian wings – he was the main reason we went there. They got their full share of mummies and we all enjoyed the Rosetta Stone.
We searched for the sword from Scarborough but no luck although we did get to handle some sharpening stones and axe pieces from thousands of years ago in a great hands-on presentation. An enjoyable few hours and it amazes me that entry is still free. Cannot go into cathedrals without paying exorbitant fees now but museums are free (church versus state).
Still raining so we headed out to look for lunch and found a pub that allowed children in near Leicester Square area. Couldn’t get show tickets for that day in anything we really wanted to see or hadn’t seen before. The new one, Roald Dahl’s book Matilda is supposed to be really good but it’s sold out for months; something to watch for in the US later. Yes Prime Minister, an older British television show is now on stage and looked good but the children would have been bored sadly.
Since it was raining so heavily we ended up buying the tourist bus passes ($100 for 5 of us) and going around on that for a while. We were able to use it the following day too so at least justified some expense. The tube is cheaper here and children are free which was better than Paris. We paid 7 pounds for a day pass in the main two zones per adult. Oyster passes are good but cost 5 pounds just to buy so not worth if for a couple of days.
Oh the bus pass also included a boat trip so we headed down the Thames for an hour. Not as scenic a river as the Seine but still another view of London. Dinner was back at the apartment after a stop around the corner at Tesco Express (I will miss these). And then we spent the evening trying to get shoes and coats to dry out. Jacob was using the blow dryer on Charlotte’s – and mom; the microwave did not work!
Woke to overcast but dry weather and it stayed dry all day until we had to walk in London! But it did make the 5 hour drive down nicer. I like the large places to stop on the M-11 now as it’s not only gas stations and McDonalds but they also have French patisseries and M & S stores with all that good food. We were able to load up again on sandwiches like duck breast and hoisin sauce – certainly more creative than ham and cheese. Then we dropped the car off after searching for the offsite place near Stanstead for about 45 minutes. Do we warned that Budget and Thrifty are miles away while Europcar is on site. Then our car and driver was waiting to take us into London. That cost 76 pounds but was worth it because the bus to London from that airport is about 15 pounds per person and the train even more. I’m finding so often that for our group of 5, a private car is often cheaper.
We were slightly anxious at the apartment as no one was there to let us in and the telephone number was not being picked up. But about 10 minutes on, we finally got through by phone and man came over immediately and let us in. The apartment had 2 bedrooms, full kitchen and living room etc. Nice with new and modern things but the floors (tiles) made our feet black. We found it on hotels.com and paid 125 pounds a night so not bad for all of us. We were 5 minutes walk to Shoreditch Tube stop which is near a lot of the Olympic areas. Got to see Olympic Village and some arenas coming in and there were still a lot of cranes and equipment madly working. It’s about a month to go now. Our driver said he was leaving the city for two weeks because he did not want to work during it as everyone is highly fearful that the London transport system simply will not work for that many additional people. It is hard to imagine because we were on many jam-packed tubes and buses were full just on normal days.
I was glad we sandwiched our trip right between the Jubilee and Trooping of the Colours because it meant we didn’t fight those crowds.
My childhood home on Valley Road in Scarborough.
Grand Hotel down along the beach
Lighthouse from the beach.
And yes it was cold and wet and is summer — June vacations in England!