London with Kids - part 1
by Geri Wagner
So you're going over to London - and taking your kids? Some might tell you to think twice about that. Why not go over by yourselves, they might ask? You do know that the British think more of their dogs than they do of children, don't you?
Fear not. I spent several months in London with three children, ages 7, 9 and 15 and there was never a dull moment. Granted, some neighbours might frown upon your kids chalking up the sidewalk in front of the house for a game of hopscotch, and you might get a few Londoners to glance askew at your family if you get too noisy riding on the "tube," but your kids will love London!
Now, if you have small children, you know that it's fairly easy to entertain them no matter where they are. You'll want to bring along a perhaps a backpack for small fry, rather than strollers.
We found that things on wheels like strollers were cumbersome. They took up too much room on the London buses (which the conductor wasn't shy to tell us about). And when we tried to wheel our way through the throngs as they swept toward an underground train in station, we learned to travel light and to walk with a quick step.
And don't be afraid of getting lost or of walking on London streets. You will rarely, if ever, feel unsafe.
Let's say you're visiting London for five days with your children who are somewhat beyond the "rugrat" age range. You want to enjoy your visit yourself, but you also want your kids to have fun.
I don't know about you, but some of us (myself included), can only deal with "museums" for just so long. In fact, I've come to cringe even at hearing the word, "museum." I think I learned that from my kids. So the first thing you could do, because some of the - ahem - museums in London are terrific and your kids will love them - is to perhaps change the names a bit.
Let's see - OK, for example - instead of telling the kids that you're thinking of visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum - to which news they will groan and twist their bodies in agony - why not say you're thinking that today would be a good day to stop by the Victoria and Albert Pantechnicon?
Before they figure out that a Pantechnicon has nothing to do with Star Wars, you'll be inside.
But perhaps you've found, as I have, that manipulating others ends up blowing up in your face. My suggestion is that you sit down and talk honestly as a family group about what you'll do during your London visit.
If you have something wonderful, or simply fun that each person can look forward to, planned, your family members will be much more willing to partake in activities that aren't exactly to their liking. It's a win-win situation. Everyone wins. Some of the time.
Everyone needs to agree to the itinerary and to the notion that no one will grumble about events they don't care too much about. If each day is planned well, you'll have a brilliant time together without anyone feeling overly burdened, bored, or stifled.
Mix things up a bit and don't be afraid to go from one end of London to another for two activities. It's easy to get around in London using their superb underground system and the traditional London buses. The ride itself on the bus or tube will be fun and educational, as long as that's the mindset of your group. And Mom and Dad can set the tone to make sure that it is just that.
Here's a five-day itinerary that should give you a good taste of London, allowing the adults in your group to feel that they've really visited the city of all cities, and given the children the fun breaks that all of us need, no matter what the age.
Want to start out on a fun note for the kids - and some luxury for yourself? How about booking a room at a hotel with a "resident ghost?" In other words, the place is haunted! Right in London, there are two hotels (five-star, mind you) that qualify as "haunted":
Park Lane, London W1A 2HJ.
(In the western section of London, on the Piccadilly Line, Consistently ranked one of the world's best. This opulent 1931 hotel offers the friendliest, almost "telepathic" levels of service (see? What did I tell you?), an outstanding choice of restaurants and a glorious Spa.
Behind the grand Art Deco exterior, bedrooms in a traditional English Country House style provide every comfort and luxury. Superbly located opposite Hyde Park.
Double/Twins from about $198.
Park Lane, London W1A 3AA.
The Hotel stands on the original site of Old Grosvenor House which was Richard the Earl of Grosvenor's 18th Century private residence. This place has got to have footsteps echoing in the dead of the night! Similarly priced. From about $168 per night per person, kids up to 16 years of age free.
Of course, for family bedtime reading, you'll want to have some wonderful ghost stories for the children to make it a little more fun and enchanting. Try "The Banshee Train" by Odds Bodkin. A person with a name like that just has to be able write a scary story, no?
Then there's the "Christmas Ghost Story" by Nick Demartino. Or, you might choose "The Berenstain Bears in Maniac Mansion" (Berenstain Bears Big Chapter Books) by Stan and Jan Berenstain.
One that is being touted as a great story for young adults and all ages, is "For Mike," written by Shelly Sykes. Better yet, make up your own scary stories! Light some candles, or hold a flashlight under your chin for a great spooky effect, put your p.j.'s on and sit around together in your hotel room. Each person takes a turn adding a few lines to the story.
Keep a pen and paper handy! These stories are often "classics" that your kids will love. Be sure you write them down so you can remember them later on! Of course, parents must use their own discretion regarding scary stories. Small children could be too frightened by inappropriate things. You don't want nightmares that will keep Mom and Dad up half the night and not able to get around London Town the next day!
When you arrive in London, the first thing you might want to do after you go to a money exchange, is buy some London underground postcards for all reading members of your group. These only cost about 20p and can be carried around and referred to easily.
If you know what tube stop is near the activity you are heading to, you can quickly figure out your route. It is cheaper than buying a map and will make you look less of a tourist (but rarely less like an American!)
article by Geri Wagner
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