The first thing that happened on our first day in London? I realized that the Tooth Fairy had fallen into a deep sleep and forgotten all about that tooth under Zoe’s pillow… Thankfully, both children were still asleep and £2.50 later (that’s $3.20 USD), the Tooth Fairy delivered.
On the train from Milan we had done the only real London planning for the trip, given that most of our time was spent in Italy and we’d have at most 40 hours total in London (including sleep time). We considered the following options:
- Harry Potter Studio Tour. Sold out.
- Harry Potter Bus Tour. Sold out.
- Harry Potter Walking Tour. Looked lame. (but notice a theme? come on, it’s London, the birthplace of Harry Potter!)
- We landed on a visit to Platform 9 3/4, the platform Harry Potter uses to get to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
- The Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace. Until we read that it was an affair, with thousands of people waiting to see it, and was not great for kids
- We landed on watching the sentry guards on duty at Buckingham Palace!
- The London Zoo! Too far and a full day commitment.
- The British Museum! Very close and Zoe loved Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, which was filmed there. How fun would that be! But apparently nothing in the film was actually at the museum… I found a Fact vs. Fiction site and one about the “horror” of museum staff about factual inaccuracies. Plus, Zoe loves dinosaurs and they are no longer at the British Museum.
- We landed on the Natural History Museum, with a supposedly incredible dinosaur exhibit.
Travel plan for our one day in London? CHECK. After mapping out a good route and eating breakfast at the hotel (Citadines Holburn Covent Garden, where I’ve stayed for work and very near a Tube stop), we felt very ready. And for the record, we thought this was going to be a simple, easy day for our last full day in Europe…
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
We took the Tube (subway) to get to the museum, exiting to an alternative entrance with the coolest butterfly exhibit I’ve ever seen! So many butterflies, a cool hatching display filled with cocoons and a Madagascan Moon Moth (picture below), who we learned lives for about a week, with one goal: MATE. The male moths don’t even have a digestive system and spend the week starving, in search of a mate. The girls (and me!) loved it.
In the marine fossils section, she saw one of her new heroes, Mary Anning, an English fossil finder who made many significant finds in the 1800s.
She also saw some cool things like Dodo birds and then the COOLEST dinosaur exhibit I’ve ever seen, including a “real” T-rex that was eerily authentic:
After the Natural History Museum we grabbed a double decker bus (with air conditioning!) and sat up top while Zoe started counting double decker buses (she got to 150 before we left). Then walked the long road to Buckingham Palace to see the guards. Zoe kept hoping to see the Queen (and Bart kept encouraging that idea…), however, we did not see her (only one of us is surprised).
They were so excited when the guards started their “walk”.
Here’s the brief explanation of what’s happening:
“A sentry will be on duty “at their post” for a two-hour period. Every 10 minutes, he comes to attention, slopes arms and does a march of 15 paces across the area of the post. Each sentry will do this four to five times before halting. He will then shoulder arms and stand at ease. Standing “easy” is not permitted whilst a sentry is at post. Orders for sentry duty read out before each 2 hour ‘tour of duty’, make it clear to each individual that: “you may not eat, sleep, smoke, stand easy, sit or lie down during your tour of duty”.”
(that’s Zoe acting serious like a guard)
After hanging with the royalty, and a bunch of strangers holding onto fence around the palace ogling the gold decoration on that black fence, we headed through the park back to the Tube for the most exciting adventure of all!
PLATFORM 9 3/4
To be honest, we almost didn’t make it to this last stop… After a super long trip, we were exhausted and Zoe kept picking at Ella (who was strapped in a stroller). But as Bart and I were trying to decipher the right Tube stop for our next adventure (which we had kept a secret from Zoe), she again began to torture her sister…
Another not-so-proud moment followed where I decided we were NOT going to go have the funnest adventure EVER and let Zoe know she would be missing out on it (insert really sad cute kid face). Then I decided I needed a break and stepped outside for perspective.
I said to Bart, “We’re going to regret it if we don’t do this, right?”
To which my infinitely wise husband responded, “Yes.”
So I put on my big girl pants, apologized and we headed off to Platform 9 3/4, the spot where Harry Potter ran through a wall to get to the train to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. (Did I mention it was 4:50 pm? Oh and that apparently the Brits like to use the Tube to commute for work?)
Anyway, 3 short stops and we arrived at Kings Cross station and headed over to see Platform 9 3/4, which was masked by a group of about 100 people all waiting to have their picture professionally taken in a Harry Potter scarf pushing a fake trolly into a wall… I stepped straight to the end of that line, smiling.
Zoe however was not smiling. (insert confused mom face) That’s when I realized, hey, she doesn’t KNOW about the picture! So Bart took her to the front to show her what was happening while I waited in line. The REAL Platform 9 3/4! How cool is THAT?!
They came back with news: Apparently Zoe was MORE interested in going into the HARRY POTTER STORE behind that platform than the photo op. (insert shocked mom face) Mind you, this same store exists at Universal Studios Hollywood not 10 minutes from our house… Bart said, “They’re charging 20 pounds for the picture. If we come out less than that, we win.”
29 pounds later, we left the incredibly crowded Harry Potter Shop with a “wand” pen, a notebook, a stuffed owl and pencil for Zoe’s teacher. Oh well, guess we didn’t win.
Or did we?
After navigating an incredibly crowded Tube (where Ella fell asleep and slept through entire journey), we ended up back near our hotel for dinner and wrapped up our last full (long) day in Europe.
To avoid yet ANOTHER blog post about our travel details, I’ll just say that the following day Zoe woke feeling feverish, and we had a long day of travel. She was a TROOPER and slept much of our 11 hour flight home, then was very helpful in the airport as we navigated passport, baggage, customs, getting our car and finally heading home.
Just a short 17 hours from door to door, and we walked back into our “new home” (the kitchen is remodeled! but that’s another blog) and I mentally kissed the floor (getting all the way down there and back up at 9 pm would have probably meant I slept there).
Speaking of sleep, as you’d guess our girls were up and WIDE AWAKE at 2 am PT the following morning, a trend that has thankfully migrated to 5:15 am PT today! We’re all working through jet lag and so glad to be home, and I’m sure one day I’ll look back at this trip and be (more) thankful.
But today I’m most thankful to have come home with 2 INTACT children, an even stronger marriage, and a family of survivors who just learned some valuable lessons about improvisation, patience and making the best of absolutely anything.