Out at Oxford – {August 2014}

Oops – this post is out of order.  I’m so behind on blogging that I forgot about our trip to Oxford the last weekend in August, but it was so fun, I don’t want to forget it!

Now that we’re back in London and have seen most of the city sights, we’re venturing out a little further to try to see as much of England as possible.  Oxford was first on our list.  A quick train ride and we made our way out to the historic, architecturally rich university town.

We chose to do the hop on/off bus to get around the town since it’s too large to walk through.

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The city of Oxford, or the city of Dreaming Spires, was founded in 1096 and consists of many universities or colleges with amazing architecture and history.

Our first stop was Christ Church where the boys spotted a field of cattle and had to interact. It’s always the little, unexpected things that end up being the highlight.  I think the boys could have hung with the cows all afternoon, but we had to say goodbye and move on with our tour.

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The grounds of Christ Church were beautiful.  It is unique as the largest college in the University, but also has the smallest cathedral in England.  It is also where Charles Dodgson wrote the famous Alice in Wonderland stories.

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We stopped to see the pretty War Memorial Gardens.

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The bus looped us around the city, showing us all the major famous buildings and well-known people who studied there.

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The University Church of St Mary the Virgin – Oxford’s largest parish church.

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We strolled through the main city center and ate street food, stopped in cute little shops and listened to local musicians.  The kids loved checking out the Harry Potter store and had to buy the nasty Jelly beans that taste so horrible, they were daring each other the rest of the day.

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My favorite stop was the Fudge Kitchen, where we got some really delicious treats!

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A few more stops along the way.  I wish I could remember all the stops.

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The Sheldonian Theatre – Sir Christopher’s Wren’s second major design in 1664 used for concert, lectures and ceremonies.

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The Radcliffe Camera – a reading room for the Bodleian Library.

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The Bodleian Library – Oxford’s main research library.

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Hertford Bridge – much like the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, or a mini Rialto Bridge.

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On our walk to the Museum of Natural History, the boys spotted a few “Hobbit houses” and wondered who lived in such dwellings.

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The Museum of Natural History had some cool dinosaur exhibits and many other extinct animals.

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Since the boys were pretty well-behaved along the tour, we treated them to a stop at their favorite candy store, Hardee’s.  They each picked out a goody and we headed back in to London.

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Despite the boys’ worries of being bored all day, they actually had a fantastic day out in Oxford!

Trina’s in Town!

Two days after Crystal and Kevin left, we were happy to have another visitor – Lynn’s sister Catrina.  The boys were excited to see her!  She came bearing gifts of Legos, books, a frisbee for the park and candy for the boys.  She was so generous to fill her suitcase with some American food we’ve been craving and can’t seem to find (or refuse buying at such ridiculous prices!).  Peanut M&M’s, Oreos, Kraft Mac n Cheese and Hidden Valley Ranch Mix – yes, nice and healthy I know.

Amazingly, Trina didn’t display a drop of jet lag so we were off and running!  I took her down to Westminster to walk around Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and all the traditional tourist sites there.   We met up with Lynn and got dinner at our favorite little French restaurant nearby.

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Nathan spun around 50 times while waiting for the tube without getting dizzy!

 

My dad had his brain tumor surgery the day before she arrived and I still hadn’t heard the results given the 16 hour surgery and time difference.  I was so anxious for him to wake up and know he was okay.

Having the love and support of family has helped us feel closer to home during this incredibly stressful time.  I’ve never been so relieved than to hear how successful his surgery was and the positive prognosis for the future, though the recovery would be long.  We are grateful for technology that connects us across oceans and lets us see each other.

Day 2

Surprisingly, we’ve never been inside Westminster Abbey so we loaded up the kids and took the tour.  It was extremely packed, but absolutely incredible inside.   We were greeted by a delightful and accommodating man, Martin, who was happy to lead us on a little personal tour to find an ancestor Tyler had recently discovered in our family line.  Somehow we are related to the first Duchess of Gloucester and were shown her tomb in a special room.  Tyler had all sorts of questions, which Martin was pleased to answer and welcomed him back to the library for more genealogical research.

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I have learned to look up when touring any old structures in Europe.  It’s simply fascinating to see the intricate, ornate and beautiful ceilings.  These photos from the web display a small peek inside this fascinating structure.  Westminster Abbey is the tradition place of coronation for English royalty.  It’s difficult to take in so much visually at once while learning the elaborate history as you go along.  A few interesting things I learned was that King Edward the Confessor began its reconstruction, formerly known as St. Peter’s Abbey, as a grand burial site for himself.  One week after its consecration in 1066, he died and was buried there.  It took another 25 years to be completed.  Also, the saying “robbing  Peter to pay Paul” refers to money donated to St. Peters that was diverted to pay for St. Paul’s Cathedral.

This is where all coronations of Britain’s kings and queens have taken place for the last nearly 1000 years.  In most recent history, it is where Prince William and Kate were married–only a very small handful of royals have that privilege.  Over 3,000 notable people are buried there as well, including many monarchs, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles, Dickens, Charles Darwin and many, many others.

 

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We went to the Chapter House there which was encased with amazing stained glass windows, each telling a story.  We loved seeing the windows about the discovery of America.  Below the windows are a series of special paintings from the 1400s that are the best preserved example of “International Gothic Style” in England.  Though quite worn, they once displayed 96 scenes or visions of the Apocalypse from the book of John.  Descriptions of each scene were once labeled on parchment beneath them, now gone.

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The little boys knocked on Britain’s oldest door (from 1050), but no one answered.

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We walked all around the Westminster area, trying to avoid the crazy demonstrators that were picketing the area.

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With fantastic spring weather, we trekked over the bridge for some lunch.  Trina was introduced to her first Bento Box.  We all had one and loved it, the kids’ were the best I’ve seen.  I miss Japanese food from home.

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Next up was Trafalgar Square where we stopped for Tyler’s favorite historical artifacts shop.

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We walked around Picadilly and shopped at the Swatch store on Regent Street for some souvenirs for her kids.

The night was finished with delicious crepes in South Kensington.

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Day 3

Sunday morning was spent at church.  After lunch, we left the kids for a bit to head down to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  The doors were open so we went in to check it out.  They were preparing for an evening service, but we had a few minutes to stare in amazement at the grandeur and awesomeness of everything.  I can’t even imagine how, or who, could have painted the ceiling of the dome so high up at its construction so long ago.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of London’s most well-known sights, as the church of England’s cathedral that dates back to the design of Sir Christopher Wren in the late 17th century.  For 250 years, it was London’s tallest building, once the same location as the original church dedicated to the apostle Paul in 604 AD.  It is definitely a place that needs to be seen to appreciate.  Incredible.  Many notable events have taken place here, including Princess Diana’s wedding to Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth’s II Jubilee celebrations, funerals for Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill and peace services at the end of world wars.

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Crossing the bridge to Southwark, we stopped in at the Tate Modern Art Museum with high hopes of being amazed.  Art is definitely in the eye of the beholder.  While there were some nice pieces, we saw a lot of unusual displays such as this galvanized metal construction that reminded me of something I might see in my garage.

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Once they move the Tate to their newly constructed building, I will give them another chance to impress.

We stopped in to show her Lynn’s office and made our way back to the kids.

 

Day 4

Changing of the Guards is always fun to see if you’re new to London.  With crowds of people, and many warnings of pick pocketers from police, we squished together to catch what we could see of the royal guard marching in.

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We lucked out with front seats on the double-decker bus headed back to Kensington.  Jace wanted to show Aunt Trina his favorite dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum.  We checked out a few other exhibits before heading out for lunch.

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We had to show Trina the Aurora Collection – all of the world’s natural colored diamonds and how some glow in the dark, since her husband is in the diamond business.

Cade watched the little ones so Tyler could take Aunt Trina to a true British pub from the early 1800s right around the corner from our flat, named Britannia.  Of course we had to show her traditional fish and chips with mashy peas.  Tyler loved his bowl of mussels and can’t wait to return to his new favorite pub.

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Now it was Cade’s turn to come to Kensington Palace with us for a little tour.  This is where Princess Diana raised her boys for the most part and where William, Kate, baby George, Harry and others live today, in a separate part of the building.

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Seeing some of Queen Elizabeth’s and Princess Diana’s dresses they wore years ago was my favorite part.  I remember loving this low-waisted, blue dress on Diana and getting a similar style for my 6th grade graduation.  Completely 80s.  Cade asked me, “Why would you want to make your legs look so short?”  Good question.

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The most depressing part was reliving the anguish of Queen Anne’s heartache as you walk through rooms learning about her 17 unsuccessful pregnancies and the boy she lost at 11 years of age who was in line to be King.

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Queen Victoria’s family once lived in the palace as well, and we learned more about her large family and the adoration she had for her husband, Albert.

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A stop by Harrod’s was a must.  Cade helped pick out a souvenir for his cousin in the Lego section of the elaborate toy department.

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Trina and I had a girl’s night out at a show.  We had so much fun at Mama Mia, I’ve never been to such a high energy show where everyone is on the feet dancing and singing along at the end.  Now I can’t stop singing all my favorite ABBA tunes!

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Day 5

Since the boys and I had our oil painting class, Lynn had Trina come out to his office to meet up for lunch.  He took her down to Borough Market where they ate and explored.  We shopped a little more and hung out with the kids.

We finished off the night with Lion King.  We’ve been wanting to see it for a while and finally got the chance.  The costuming and sets were so creative and captivating.  The kids loved all the animals and music.

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Day 6

Tyler and Trina left early so he could show her around the Tower of London.  It’s his favorite place here.

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We met up and switched off so Cade could take Trina to lunch at Nando’s, his favorite place nearby for spicy chicken and endless frozen yogurt.

With drizzly weather, we adjusted our plans to see a castle and opted to go on a boat tour to see the city from a different view.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to see much since the kids wanted to stay dry inside the boat.

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The boys had to point out their favorite ship – the HMS Belfast

 

It’s always hard to see family go.  The time flies way too quickly.  We absolutely loved spending the week with Catrina and making unforgettable memories.  Thank you to her awesome family for making it possible for her to come out to see us!

Back in Britain

It was risky flying solo with the four boys, but they did surprisingly great.  We left Seattle around 11 am and flew direct to arrive the next morning at 9 am.  The boys didn’t sleep a wink again so they were all messed up.  We attempted to take a little nap once we reached the apartment.  I thought surely one of us would wake up in three hours time, but no.  We all slept nine hours and woke at 5 pm, right in time for Lynn to come home and crash from his jet lag from Asia.  We felt like walking zombies, taking nearly all week to get back on the time zone here, but eventually we got caught up.

How strange it felt to be back.  Familiar yet foreign.  My focus was getting the kids’ schoolwork back to normal.  It’s been so sporadic fitting it in when we can.  We still need our daily outings and made it to a few playgrounds and museums throughout the week.

Princess Diana Memorial Playground

The weather was surprisingly wonderful for this time of year so we ventured out to the parks daily to burn off the boys’ energy.  They love Hyde Park and the Princess Diana playground.

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My eye caught a familiar face, even though she didn’t have any makeup on–and sure enough we saw Adele and her little boy playing right next to us.  It was clear she didn’t want to be bothered.  Her body guard shooed away a curious man so we didn’t try.  But Tyler snuck a picture.  She was really sweet sitting right in the sand with her little boy.

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Holland Park Adventure Playground

Our other favorite park is Holland Park because they have a unique playground for all ages.  No celebrity sightings here, but it was packed with plenty of people wanting to enjoy the outdoors.

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Tyler was excited to be back with his buddy here.  They discovered a ladder outside our front door in the ceiling that takes them up to the building’s rooftop.  They felt like James Bond, climbing across the building tops.  He and Cade had some friends over to play guitars up there one night under the stars and looking out at the city lights.

British Library

On Saturday, we decided to check out the British Library.  I was hoping we could get library cards and check out some books for the kids.  Little did we know, it was more like a museum.  I don’t even think they have children’s books here.  And the process to get a card is much more intense, I don’t think we’ll bother.  Hopefully we can find a more usable library, however this one was interesting to see.  They liked checking out the rare stamp collection, old books, and vintage printing presses.

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Along the way we were impressed with the St. Pancras  Renaissance Hotel.  Wow!  I’m astounded how many times we’re surprised by such architecture, many times in the least expected places.

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Cutty Sark Tea Clipper

We finished off our first week with a field trip to Greenwich.  What a beautiful area!  We will definitely go back since we couldn’t fit everything in we wanted to.  First up was a tour of the world’s only surviving tea clipper, the Cutty Sark.  The boys were anxious to tour the ship and learn its history.  It was originally built in 1869 to transport tea to China and there were many exhibits showing exactly what it would have been like, including a seat that swayed like sea motion.  It was the fastest sailing clipper in its time, transporting all sorts of cargo, including wool to Australia.  She eventually was retired to the faster steamships that were more reliable.  The boys liked seeing what the crew ate and pretending to be captain for a day.

 

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The ship has been preserved and restored as a museum ship for visitors now.  Suspended 3 meters above the ground, you can see the entire hull of the ship and view the world’s largest collection of ships’ figureheads in the gallery below.

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National Maritime Museum

Next up was a tour of the National Maritime Museum which happens to be the world’s largest.  We explored the vast collections of British history at sea.

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The little boys pretended to be explorers on the high seas in all the different boats.  Through the icebergs and the battles, they imagined grand voyages afloat.

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The older boys learned all about Admiral Lord Nelson and the Battle at Trafalgar viewing many of his personal items that brought to life what happened so long ago.  Of course Tyler loved learning about all the warships and seeing the battle displays.

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The museums here are so incredible and geared towards hands on learning for kids.  We love them.  It’s been a wonderful way to enrich their learning and education this year beyond what they could have learned in a classroom.   

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Driving the ship simulator and making it successfully to port was everyone’s favorite.

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What beautifully intricate replicas of various vessels throughout the museum.  Truly impressive!

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Happy are we to be back to continue our journey in this great land.  Still so much more to see and do…

Ringing in the New Year!

A few days before New Year’s we got invited to spend the afternoon out at the home of Lynn’s colleague.  We finally got to check out the English suburbs!  We took the over ground train out the furthest we’ve been, finally getting to zone 5.  We’ve been teased for not making it out of zone 1 and 2 (except for the airport), but there’s so much to still see and do in the heart of the city we just haven’t expanded our adventures to the countryside yet.   It was our first time in a true English family’s home, which was lovely.  They have 4 children too, which is quite uncommon around here.  The boys were so excited to play with their adorable puppy.  To their delight, they had quite a few other pets including 4 guinea pigs in the large backyard, a cat, and gerbils.  Jumping on the trampoline was a great energy release for the little ones while we visited.  We all enjoyed a formal lunch of tomato soup, bread, sausage rolls, mini sausages, various cheeses, mince pies, and clotted cream ice cream with homemade chocolate sauce.  We’re all still getting used to the food here, but like most everything so far.  They had X-Box and Legos to keep them entertained so it felt a lot like home.

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New Year’s Eve

With Lynn wrapping up the hectic year-end business at the office, the boys and I went and got food for our celebrations.  I looked everywhere for a fondue pot, but came up short so that tradition will have to wait until next year.  Tyler had plans to hang out with friends and go to the mall, dinner, movie and play games at his friend’s house later.  With the bus and tube services closed for the night, he ended up staying the night, which didn’t bother him a bit.  His friend got an XBOX One for Christmas so he was happy.

Gratefully, Lynn was pleased with the way the year shaped up.  He has worked so many long hours in the past two months and it was great to see the European office exceed expectations, so it was time to celebrate!  Originally we had planned to go watch the fireworks at the London Eye, but the weather turned stormy and we decided to watch it on the BBC instead.  When we saw the massive crowds of people on tv that had been saving their spot for hours, we knew we made the right decision for our group.

We had a pretty simple meal and treats and toasted in the New Year with sparkling rhubarb and custard punch.  We have discovered some very weird flavors of things here.  The rest of the night was spent playing some games with the kids. London Snap was a fun new game Cade got for Christmas, it’s like slapjack with English landmarks. Our other new favorite game is Wits and Wagers, which is a more exciting version of trivial pursuit.  Thanks Ryan & Suzette for the fun gift!

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My parents called us from Chelan and we were able to face time with them and my sister’s family, who we regularly spend New Year’s with.  We miss family a lot right now.  I miss reading all our New Year’s predictions from the prior year to see who was right and who was way off! 

The little boys were determined to stay up until midnight and as the clock grew nearer, they got more hyper.  Cade spotted some fireworks and we heard loud noises right outside our window.  They had fun watching their own little show poking their heads out to see them right above them.  Every once in a while a new set of fireworks would light off in a different area, keeping them entertained until the big show.  We watched all the different country’s firework shows until our countdown.

Usually we’re fixed on watching the Space Needle light up, but it was a great sight to watch the London Eye and Big Ben as the backdrop for such an exciting event.  This year’s goal of those in charge was “flavored fireworks and the greatest number of people in human history having a simultaneous multi-sensory experience.”  People were given scratch and sniff programs and candy to match the peach snow, orange flavored bubbles, banana confetti and fruity mist rain down on the masses during the show.  Even being at home, we were all amazed at the creative, intense fireworks that looked like they were going to catch the city on fire.

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Quite the show out our window. We’re glad we’re this high up!

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This is why we didn’t wait three hours for a good viewing spot

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For hours, we could hear different sets of fireworks and a lot of sirens.  Not the best night’s sleep.

New Year’s Day

We could have kept sleeping, but rolled out of bed after 10:00 am.  I’m always happy when my kids sleep in when I need it.  One look out the window and we weren’t too excited about the weather for the big parade.  Lynn, Jace and I decided to check out the tail end, hoping by then the horrible wind and rain would have calmed.  We made it to Trafalgar Square and found a front row spot surprisingly.  The weather must have thinned the crowds more than usual.  I think we must have missed the best performers though, as most were young bands from the U.S. or random small groups.  The guy next to me was sure excited to see the cast of Mr. Who, something I have no knowledge of.  I felt really bad for all the drenched performers–they must have been freezing.

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Dr. Who

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We ditched the parade and got lunch at Nando’s, which was a little too spicy but fun to do with just one child.  How easy life would be!  The rest of the afternoon was spent watching movies and hanging out.

It’s been over two months since we’ve had a decent American style pizza and rootbeer, but we found a place not too far away and got take-away for dinner.  Pizza has never tasted so good!  We had to laugh when we saw their interpretation of sausage, olives and onion though with whole olives and sliced hard sausage.  You see some really strange items on pizza around here, it’s typically disgusting.  Who likes corn on pizza anyway?

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A few more games before bedtime and we called it a night.

Day After New Year’s

I let the kids skip school assignments for the day so we could meet up with some new friends at the London Transport Museum.  Although we were terribly late, the boys all loved checking out the history of the city’s buses, taxis, trains and underground.  There were so many interactive exhibits for them to explore.  Cade got to pretend to drive a big double-decker bus as the younger ones pretended to be run over.  They all loved driving the simulated tube train from stop to stop.  Thankfully we got a year’s pass, so we will return when there’s more time and less crowds.

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Right across the street is Shake Shack which we devoured for lunch.  American style hamburgers are another craving we’ve had since living here and it hit the spot perfectly!  Crinkle fries, shakes and “concrete” ice cream all ruined whatever healthy new year’s goals we had, but it was worth it!

Today’s weather was such a stark contrast from yesterday’s storms that we took advantage of walking all around Covent Garden.  There was a fascinating street performer balancing on his unicycle atop a narrow suspended rope while juggling three sharp knives.  I’m hoping it didn’t give the boys any new ideas!

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Sometimes getting lost while finding the bus stop or underground works out.  We ended up at Trafalgar Square again with all the activity.  Jace even warmed up to the idea of a picture with some of his favorite Star Wars guys, but was blinded by the sun.  Another unicycle knife juggler was performing and dazzling the crowds.  This whole area is so beautiful on a clear, sunny day.

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Weekend

Our grand plans to go to the Dover Castle and  the White Cliffs were ruined with severe weather warnings for the coastline, so we will wait for the sun to hopefully return again soon.  Instead, we took the boys over to the Imperial War Museum.  Unbeknownst to us, it was the last weekend it would be open before a six month major renovation.  We arrived just in time, but they were far more crowded than usual and many of the exhibits were already blocked off, including all the planes.  They didn’t allow much photography, but here’s a few shots of the day with my blurry camera.

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While we wrap up the holidays and get ready to kick off 2014 strong, we look back at the past year in amazement and gratitude for the ways in which we’ve grown and bonded together as a family.   It’s not always pretty, but it’s been a fabulous, wonderful year as a whole we won’t soon forget.  Bring on the New Year with all its adventures and possibilities!

Museums & Parks

It’s amazing what we can see and do in a week’s time here.  I think it’s because we don’t have the distractions of real life and can just go and do whatever we want.  I love it.  It’s not all rosy (trust me), but I’m so grateful for this rare opportunity to be this involved and present with my kids to go and see the world through their eyes.  It’s priceless really.

We’re finding it’s necessary to get out of the apartment every day or we’ll go insane.  We stayed home once.  Not a good idea.

We’ve been checking out a lot of museums and parks lately.  I’m pretty sure my kids will be “museumed” out by the time we’re done with this adventure.  There’s just so many fascinating things to see, they really have the best of the best here.  I love that most of them are free too so we can visit often or just go for a shorter visit, not trying to see everything in one day.

British Museum

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We checked out the British Museum which is enormous.  The main display the boys wanted to see was the ancient Egyptian mummies–they were intrigued by what they saw.  They even had mummified animals.  There were x-ray pictures showing what was inside.  Fascinating and creepy. There’s so much more to see here, but we made it a quick trip so we could hit the park while it’s sunny.

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Museum of Childhood

We ventured over to the Museum of Childhood.  Displayed are toys European children played with dating back to the 1600s to the present time.  As you enter, there’s a wall of items children had expelled from school over the years, which the boys found quite interesting.

Jace loved the Star Wars collection, even though they didn’t have General Grievous.  Nathan was hoping for a big Lego display, but they only had a tiny one.  Guess they’re not as popular here.  Cade liked the big robot on display that requires you to put the pieces of the clockwork correctly on his back to make it come alive.  Tyler’s favorite things were the retro video games and army toys.  It was eye-opening to see some of the games they required German kids to play in school during Hitler’s reign.  I was amazed at the intricate doll houses, having loved mine as a child.  The little boys were freaked out by all the baby dolls—they’re still getting over a scary story they read a year ago and seeing some of the creepy dolls here might make for some new nightmares!

  Confiscated toys from school

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I think Tyler’s about done with my picture taking

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They all liked the war games and reinacting battles

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Incredibly detailed army toys – not quite the same as the green ones we’re used to

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This was the largest make-a-funny-face with magnetic hair table

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Jace loved the rocking horses

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Tyler’s checking out the vintage videogames

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Jace found the Star Wars exhibit

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There were so many amazing dollhouses

 

Parks

Another cool park we found just down the street was Holland Park.  They have an adventure playground with really cool toys that would never pass code in America.  The park is huge.  The grounds used to be part of a 500 acre historic home renamed the Holland House.  It was bombed by the Germans in 1940 and most of it was destroyed.  The only section still standing is used as a youth hostel.  Tyler tried to find an opening to explore, but it’s all tightly boarded up.  There is so much history here, it’s haunting almost to imagine what occurred…at this beautiful place that entertained royalty to what it is today.

Holland Park

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Holland House in the early 1900s

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Holland House after being bombed 22 times in WWII

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They all loved the adventure playground.  So glad this is a short walk from our apartment!

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We daringly circled the peaceful Japanese gardens and saw huge goldfish and colorful peacocks.  If I had the ability, I’d come here and read a good book—it was like a postcard.

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The boys begged to go back to feed the birds at Kensington Gardens, but it was pretty packed and there were several loose dogs running around.  I’ve noticed they don’t have leash laws here like the US.  And there are so many dogs everywhere! Seeing the dogs made the boys miss Lily even more than they do, and they started feeding the dog bread instead.  When the dog’s owner arrived, she was yelling in her British accent “You naughty, naughty little dog!” over and over and the boys felt bad for it.  They found the cutest 10-week old puppy on its first adventure out and got to play with him for twenty minutes.  They’re missing their dog a lot.  I’m kind of enjoying the break, honestly.

Kensington Garden Pond

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