strawberry shortcake

Last vacation entry!

Day 9- August 30 (Drew's b-day!). This was the only rainy day of our entire vacation. It started out just gray, got misty, then became a full-on downpour.

We started the day at the Tower of London. It was not crowded at all when we got there, so we basically walked right into the Crown Jewels exhibit, where West became obsessed with a sweet jeweled sword, then we walked all around the place and explored almost every nook and cranny. The biggest hit by far was the White Tower, with the armor exhibits. At the very top room of the tower, there's an enormous dragon made out of armor and weapons, and West lost his mind over how amazing it was. The dragon's name is "Keeper," and West could have stayed there all day looking at it.

After the Tower, we took a boat ride up the Thames to Westminster. Probably not a great call, since it was about noon, but I saw there was no line at Westminster Abbey and figured we could bang that sight out pretty quickly. So we went to the Abbey, but I'd forgotten how much it bottlenecks all over the place because so many people stop randomly to listen to their audio guide, so you get stuck in a slow moving line for the entire circuit around, so even if you want to glide through, it takes a while. Saw a pretty amazing tomb with an elaborate carving of a skeleton reaching up to grab a carving of a woman, saw all the royal tombs, and revisited Poet's Corner to quietly commemorate our engagement. West was super patient through the whole thing, even though I'm sure a tour of an old church filled with tombs isn't the most exciting thing for a kid.

Left the Abbey in search of lunch and had to wander in the rain until we stumbled on a pub. After lunch we wandered to the theater district so I could grab our will-call tickets for that night, and Drew went to a bookstore. We later reconvened at the hotel, fed West a peanut butter sandwich, then dived back out into the night for dinner and a show. We randomly went to a hot pot restaurant in Chinatown that was amazing, and I'm still obsessing over how good the food was. The broth was so spicy and good, and there was a conveyor belt with all the stuff you could get to put in the broth. Amazing!

Then West and I went to the theater to see Aladdin the musical. It was such a spectacle, really great sets and costumes. The music was a little meh, because there are basically 3 outstanding songs in the movie, and I think they had to make up a few original songs for the play to make it a true musical. West loved it, there's a part when Aladdin is in the cave getting the lamp where he touches some jewels that he's not supposed to touch, and the whole theater goes dark for a minute. There's another part where they set off confetti over the audience, and for A Whole New World the two leads get on a carpet that's rigged up to look like it's flying around. Totally worth it. Took a taxi back to the hotel at the end, and that's that.

Day 10- August 31. This was a tough day to plan because we had hit so many of the must-sees, and we were getting tired from so much non-stop action. We started the day with a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour, since we wanted to get down to the old part of the city and could get on the bus using our London Pass. We got down to the Monument area in time for a two hour walking tour done by London Walks. There were a lot of people on the tour, and while some parts of it were cool (like going through secret passageways through churches and secret gardens), it was a little too big of a group to really get into it, and so it wasn't as great as I'd hoped it would be. The tour guide also wasn't the most personable person, but eh, what can you do. West was really good for such a long walking tour. At the end of the tour it was lunch time, so we headed in the direction of a restaurant we'd looked up online that looked promising, only to arrive at it to find that it doesn't exist yet! It opens in a few months. So we wandered and found a Mexican restaurant that turned out to be good, and wonder of wonders, West agreed to eat a quesadilla.

After lunch we went to the Natural History Museum, which was bananas busy and crowded. It also wasn't air conditioned, and with all those people crowded in, it was hot. We saw the dinosaurs, which is what West really cared about, and he spent a while staring at an animatronic t-rex. Walked through their outdoor garden, which was quite nice and very tranquil (and had a surprise sheep!), then went back in, did a quick breeze through the mammals exhibit, then escaped.

Our last stop was the Princess Diana Memorial Playground near Kensington Palace. Aka, the best playground in the world. It was incredible, I only wish we had been able to squeeze in one more trip to it because it was so much fun for West. It has a huge pirate ship, a water play area, an adventure playground, an area with Native American tents, a secret tunnel to a music exploration area, a sensory garden, and a hidden little nook with a pirate treasure chest. Also has a kiosk selling kid-friendly food, so that was West's dinner sorted. Drew and I got Indian food take out and ate in our hotel room that night, and we watched some British tv while we packed and relaxed before the big trip home.

Day 11- September 1. Not much to report, went to Heathrow, in the plane we ended up sitting a few rows in front of an attorney from my work who was traveling with his family, got to Logan, got in our car service, and had a very loooong traffic-slow trip back to Salem.

That's the story of our vacation. It was perfect and amazing, I don't know how we can ever top it! West wants to go back to Warwick Castle, but man, that's chasing lightning, I don't know that a second trip could live up to the memory. But I'm already hoping we can do another trip to the UK sooner than ten years from now (Cornwall! Non-creepy Wales!).
strawberry shortcake

Still. More. Vacay.

But wait, there's more!

Day 6- August 27. Up with the literal dawn. We didn't even wait for breakfast, and the reception area was dark and unstaffed when we left. Left the key on the front desk and left town so fast there were probably cartoon speed marks in our wake.

This was Drew's Liverpool soccer game day, so we drove to Crewe, which is a nondescript post-industrial city that happens to have a big rail hub. We breakfasted at a sketchy McDonald's because there were no other options, and then dropped Drew at the train station. Then West and I went off for our day of adventure.

First stop- The Trentham Monkey Forest. It's a preserve for one species of monkey, and the monkeys wander free through the forest area. We saw some monkeys having a spat, and a few monkeys walked across the path in front of us, much to West's delight. Saw a talk by one of the staff at feeding time, West played on the playground for a few minutes, I paid a couple of pounds for him to get a few minutes in a bouncy house, then we headed out.

Stopped for lunch at a rest area on the highway that had a nice outdoor patio next to a pond & water fountain, so that was nice. We eventually made it to Stratford-Upon-Avon, and went to Mary Arden's Farm.

The farm was Shakespeare's mom's childhood home, and it was way more interesting than I expected! West loved it! There are some people in old timey costumes doing various farming/crafting demonstrations, and you can wander around the grounds, which include some gardens and some sheep/cattle fields. There's also a nice old Tudor house that you can walk through. Of course, for a couple of pounds you can do have-a-go archery, so West got to shoot some arrows. There's also a nice playground, so we booked some time there. We spent a good couple of hours at the farm, and could have stayed longer, but it was getting on a bit in the afternoon by then and I wanted to get to our hotel before dinner time. Also, my phone battery was almost dead and I didn't want to be stranded without a phone.

Made our way to our hotel for the night, The Castle at Edgehill, which is just on the outskirts of the Cotswolds area, or maybe just within it. It's up on a hill in a pretty small town in a rural farm area, but even with the secluded area it felt so much less creepy than the Wales inn the night before. It's a genuine castle, built in the late 18th century, though it's more of a folly and I don't think it was built for fortification. It was near the site of a big battle in the English Civil War, though. So our room was super comfy and felt luxurious, which was nice after such a bummer before. West's bed was tucked in a little alcove off the main room, always a plus, and they left a big basket of continental breakfast food for us, with juices and local milk in the room's fridge, so our breakfast was ready to go. That was totally awesome.

I was thinking about driving back into Stratford-Upon-Avon for dinner with West, but we were pretty tired after a long day, and knowing I would have to drive again later that night, I took a chance on bringing West to the hotel's fancy restaurant. It turned out to be awesome, he ate a grown-up fancy burger and was generally a very pleasant little dude. He got really into pouring water for me from the table's water bottle, and he wanted to be fancy for fancy dinner.

After dinner West and I piled back into the car to drive to Rugby, another post-industrial city with a big train station, so we could pick up Drew after his day in Liverpool. The GPS in the car stopped working just for this car trip, which was aggravating. I got Google Maps working on my phone, but it still led me astray a few times when the car's GPS probably would have been better (but amazingly, when we mentioned this to the car rental place when we returned the car, they actually refunded us the cost of the GPS for the week!). Finally made it to Rugby after driving for an hour down a bunch of twisty tiny country roads in the dark, got Drew, drove for another hour down the country roads.

Day 7- August 28. Time to wrap up the countryside for London! We headed out bright and early, anticipating Monday morning traffic jams, but it was a bank holiday, so we were pleasantly surprised by the complete lack of traffic. Made it back to the car rental place at Heathrow in record time, then got on the Heathrow Express to get into the city. Dropped our luggage off at our hotel, the Nadler Kensington, which was in a great location near a big tube station, but enough out of the way to be quiet at night. Room was comfy and had a little bed for West, so it was just what we needed.

We spent most of this day walking around London, taking in the big sights. First things first, we got off the tube right in front of Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. West was duly impressed. Walked by 10 Downing Street and West got a picture of himself standing next to a guard on a horse. Went to Trafalgar Square, then got lunch in the crypt at St. Martin-in-the-Field, which is something I've always wanted to do. Walked around St. James Park, which had a surprise playground that was awesome, and West made a buddy for a little while. Continued on to the end of the park and arrived in front of Buckingham Palace, so we could check that off the list. Walked back through Trafalgar Square to get up to Regent Street, where we found Hamley's Toy Store, a completely bananas incredible toy store. It blew West's mind. Got dinner at Pizza Express, because it's not like we can visit England without going to Pizza Express. Then we decided on the spur of the moment to do a Ghost Bus tour, which was highly entertaining and totally worth the steep tourist-trap price.

Day 8- August 29. This was probably my second favorite day of vacation, it went off perfectly and was a total delight. We started the day by going to King's Cross Station to do the Platform 9 3/4 visit. The line for photos wasn't long, so we got some good photos of West there, got our Harry Potter memorabilia, and then set off on foot for the London Zoo.

We walked through parts of Camden I'd never seen before, and got to the zoo after a solid 20-30 minute walk. It was awesome, West saw the gorillas and was happy, and he spent the entire time we were in the Reptile House hissing at the snakes to try to communicate with them. We had a decent lunch at the zoo cafeteria, then it was time to move along.

Our next stop was the British Museum. I wasn't sure how it would go over with West, but he had a great time. They have backpacks you can rent that are full of various activities for kids. The backpacks are themed, so we took the ancient Greece themed on, which had the cutest little toga for West to wear while we ran around the Greek stuff doing the activities. One of the activities was to sit in a quiet corner and play a game of knucklebones, then look at the vases that show ancient Greeks playing the game. It was awesome, though the museum was not air conditioned, and that wing was particularly hot that day. Saw all the big stuff that you want to see at the museum, and by the end of the day, Drew wanted to go check out a bookstore that was nearby. West and I stayed at the museum for a cupcake snack and a leisurely shopping break in the gift shop, then we all regrouped and headed to a nearby pub for refreshment. Ended the day with dinner at a super touristy and embarrassing to set foot in American style restaurant in Trafalgar Square, but we wanted someplace easy with food West would eat, so that's what we were stuck with.