One FREE Day in London

Like any major city, London is expensive!! But, there are actually a wide variety of world-class experiences you can have in London completely free from the playground at the London Eye for younger kids, to a beautiful stroll the parks of London (while most people choose Hyde Park I have a special fondness for Saint James Park). In order to save budget for our second (very much not free) day in London, and following our lovely day Touring Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, and Bourton on the Water In the Cotswolds we decided to challenge ourselves with one full day of free adventures in The Big Smoke.

Our One Day of Free Activities in London with Kids included:

  • A Visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum: We started our free day of exploring London at the V&A (based on my previous tips of evaluating crowd size via Google and prioritizing must-do vs. would-be-nice venues). We arrived promptly at 10:00 am when the museum opens and whisked through security and into the stunning Medieval Renaissance and Cast Courts exhibits where we saw perfect replicas of the amazing works we’d seen on our previous trips to Italy. Then we moved on to photography, where we viewed thought-provoking pieces from the late 19th Century through modern works; and moved into the gorgeous jewelry displays featuring items from Queen Victoria’s coronation crown to Queen Bey’s emerald and diamond butterfly room. Even my son’s liked it. We finished our visit in the Architecture and Glass exhibits but quickly about-faced our of the museum as swarms of shrieking Tweens on field trip had taken over the museum ruining the beauty of the space we’d previously enjoyed.
The Beautiful Victoria & Albert MuseumThe Beautiful Victoria & Albert Museum
  • A Visit to the British Natural History Museum: V&A being the day’s must-do, we decided to take a lap at the Natural History museum next door. We walked through the Volcanoes & Earthquakes exhibit, the obligatory review of the section on Dinosaurs, and some temporary exhibits on Whales and another piece on the Moon. However, if shrieking tweens at V&A we’re bad, tantruming toddlers were the soundtrack of the Natural History museum, and as my son pointed out, “science is the same at home” where we have a world-class Natural History Museum with more interactivity, sans teaming throngs of humanity. So, we moved on to the next stop.The British Natural History Museum

The British Natural History Museum

  • An Afternoon to Explore the British Museum: Now, if crowds were unbearable at the earlier museum, the British Museum was a state of nature, but one can easily understand why. We saw the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles, The Mummy of the Chantress of Amun, and sculptures and artifacts from ancient cultures, so we braved the hordes for as long as we could. If we’d waited until after 3:00 when the tour groups leave, I’m told the experience is much calmer – live and learn.
Viewing Arguments at ParlimentAttend Debates at Parliament
  • A Stop to Watch Arguments at Parliament: As politics-buffs (is that a phrase?) we couldn’t miss a chance to watch debates at Parliament – this free experience is rarely crowded and definitely an insider’s experience (no obvious signage or tour groups), and definitely worth the time. To view the debates you enter through the Cromwell Green Entrance, and you can research debate topics and the calendar (debates often go until 10:00 PM) on the Parliament UK site. Our entire experience from line up, through security, and about 30 minutes watching debates about the British HS II project lasted about an hour, which was about the right amount of time for our family’s attention spans.

What are your favorite ways to spend a free day in London with Kids?

London, Stonehenge and The Cotswolds with Teenagers: A Three Day Itinerary

Our Itinerary for Three Days in England, Travelling with Teenagers

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Plan coming – keep checking back; I use this page as an active planner for all my trips, an interactive Apple Wallet.

London Itinerary Day One: Arrive in London from Prague, pick up Rental Car and drive to Stonehenge

Driving Time: About Three Hours, without stops

  • Stonehenge Visitor Center – we Booked our tickets in advance online for the 11:00 option and selected the Family Pass to Stonehenge for £49.40
  • Salisbury Cathedral – home to the best preserved of only four surviving original Magna Carta (AD1215)
Salisbury Cathedral Day Trip from London with Teens

Photo Courtesy: https://www.firsdown.org.uk/salisbury-cathedral

  • Chedworth Roman Villa – Built towards the end of Rome’s imperial domination of Britain, the villa is a fine example of the advances in Romano-British engineering, and a well-preserved Villa full of history and design.
Chedworth Roman Villa, Day Trip from London with KidsPhoto Courtesy: https://archaeology-travel.com/england/chedworth-roman-villa/
  • Cotswolds – Following a visit to Stonhenge and Salsbury Cathedral our family of four will be hangry, so a leaisurely country drive, stopping in for snacks and a light lunch on the water will be the perfect way to wrap up the day before heading back to London.

London Itinerary Day Three: Victoria & Albert Museum and High Tea in London with Teenagers

High Tea in London

As a mother of sons I recognize, I need to pick my battles.  But, High Tea in London is a battle I am willing to wage.  I could go on and on about “culture” and “exposure” and “how good it is for their global awareness” but really.  I want some pretty – and I’m planning this expedition so two hours or my say so is what happens.

So, for our second full day in London, we’ll be hitting tea at the Mad Hatters Tea Party at the Sanderson hotel for an afternoon tea, with teenagers.  I researched the Savoy and the Ritz but decided against the more traditional options due to the required “Smart Casual” dress.  There’s no reason to lug “smarter-than-average” casual attire through Europe for two weeks when the rest of our activities are more in the range of “smarter-than-your-average-tourist” casual attire.

So, we’ve booked in for a Mad Hatters Tea Party in London for

Into Everyone’s Life A Little Motivation Will Fall

Six hours

I have six hours until I need to be on a flight to the UK, followed by three days “on”, a day to fly home, two days of laundry, groceries, and prep then four days in Chicago, five days in Rome, and one week home. Then it’s on to one week in New York, a long weekend in Louisville, a few days of baseball practice, birthday parties, and laundry, a week in Dusseldorf, a week at home … two weeks in Eastern Europe. Then, finally, I’ll get a nice long six week break before I start it all up again.

I’ll earn this year’s Gold Medallion status in just one quarter of work travel.  But, today, I just can’t seem to must two f*cks to give. 

I love my job. I love to travel. I love to pack, and head out on a great adventure.  But sometimes, I love to sit on my bed, with a nice glass of Pinot, and watch Keeping Up With Kardashians.  And, until July – there will be no time for such luxury.

So, right now, instead of going to get the mani-pedi I desperately need, or packing up my still empty suitcase, or tackling the laundry mountain that is threatening to swallow me whole, I am wallowing. I’m still in last night’s T-shirt, snuggled under the covers, too pre-emptively tired to even reach across the bed for the remote control, and Pinteresting packing ideas (as if that will magically fill my suitcase with clothes).

For those who’ve never experienced it, pre-emptive exhaustion is the practice of being exhausted not by what you’ve done, but by what you’re preparing to do. I haven’t yet flown for 15 hours straight, haggled to get a trunk full of sample merchandise through customs, and then been charming and “on” for four days of double-face-kisses and global sales dominance, before washing, rinsing, and repeating in another city, another W hotel. But, I know it’s coming, and right now, just the thought of it is more than I can handle – exacerbated by the fact that following her performance review, the world’s worst assistant quit, with no notice, and an inbox full of To Do’s.

Damn, I wish the liquor store opened before 11:30, it’s the perfect Pinot-and-Kardashians kind of morning.

I

One Year in Review

The LaBelleValise blog is now one year old.  This blog started as a travel log on all the places work, life, and wanderlust takes me and over the past year the adventure has been better than I hoped.

Here are a few of the highlightswpid-20141203_115451.jpg

The Buffer Day

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One o’clock on a Friday afternoon is a perfectly reasonable time to depart from Salt Lake City International Airport en route to the lush green countryside of England. The airport is busy and fully staffed but not yet crowded with weekend warriors and the commuting execs have already cleared out of the Priority security lanes, eager to return after a week away from home and hearth.

My trusty Kelly green roller bag and I whizzed through security, swift and practiced in the head, shoulders, knees, and toes of airport security and onto the Delta lounge for a glass of white wine and a spoonful of Nutella, before I arrived at gate C9, just in time to line up for priority boarding.

Then they called my name. An error with my boarding pass “The Assistant” had once again booked a ticket with my awkward last name typed incorrectly. Some gate agents let it slide, other over-diligent types require that I show my passport and reprint my boarding pass. That flight was staffed by the diligent type.

“The flight is completely full today, Miss would you mind gate checking your bag?”

Now, I believe in flight karma, and I love it when they call me Miss, so I agreed.

“Be the traveler you want to travel with.”

Because I believe in flight karma, when asked to switch seats for families, change flights without affecting arrival times, or check my bag, I try to acquiesce. So I agreed, bid my bag a brief adieu and onto the plane I went, where my sacrifice was rewarded with a bulkhead seat followed by an international flight with no passenger in the seat beside me.

Flight karma is good … until I arrived in Manchester, wearing my less-then-clean ankle length white travel skirt, eighteen hours of grime, black cowboy boots, and my trusty Kelly green suitcase did not.

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My hotel was located a traffic-free one hour ride from the airport, and I was ensured that my bag would be delivered at 6:00 when the next flight arrived from Ansterdam.

But, the gate agent forgot to tell me that the lost luggage desk closes at 6:00 PM.

A call to the lost luggage line confirmed that my baggage would be delivered in the morning, at 9:00 am, when the luggage desk opened.

But, on Sundays, the lost luggage desk does not open until 11:00 am.

Time to make the most of a bad situation.

Handy in-room sewing kit in hand I took my plaid pashmina and fashioned a makeshift knee length kilt for a better finished effect than the rumpled white skirt I had been wearing for two days of planes, trains, and automobiles. With my black travel cardigan, a low braid, and my black boots I almost looked casual and sporting. Unfortunately, the event I was hosting beginning at 12:30 was neither casual nor sporting.

Google, Siri, and a couple of calls later I’d identified a few shopping options within a 30 minute drive and decided it was time to call an audible, “My luggage isn’t going to make it in time for my work function, can you get me a taxi into the nearest city center?”

Hard target search: straightening iron and cosmetics at Boots, then a head-to-toe polyester masterpiece for 50£ at Primark, and I almost looked like the professional I pretend to be (so long as nobody looked too closely or smoked in my immediate vicinity.)

Not a hair out of place, a raised voice, or a lost second of sleep. I have proved again that in travel, as in life, It ain’t a problem if you can solve it with a taxi ride and an American Express.