As part of our family sabbatical, we’d planned to fly directly from Costa Rica to Germany, using London only as a stop-over because it is such a cheap hub to connect you to anywhere in Europe. Due to a few bloopers in planning, we ended up staying here two nights which, although expensive, turned out to be a great situation to find ourselves in.
We had flown in to London’s Gatwick Airport at 7am but left only after 9:30am to avoid heavy congestion on the train. We had sat watching the massive crowds at the train and bus station outside the airport and didn’t want to carry two kids plus all our luggage through peak commute time.
During that time Ajay spotted a deal on the Hop On Hop Off bus. After a 30 hour journey of straight travel (including waiting for 12 hours at Fort Lauderdale Airport) we knew we would be exhausted and would want an easy day of sight-seeing. So we decided to use book the tour bus, after all, we didn’t want to waste a whole day in London catching up on sleep!
Fortunately we were able to drop off our luggage early at the Airbnb, even though we couldn’t check in til 3pm. After grabbing some food, we hopped on the Hop On Hop Off bus. We went upstairs so we could see the sights fully.
Ajay and I plugged our earphones in and listened to the tour’s audio about various buildings, bridges and parks. In spite of the blue spring sky, the day was still chilly. Within an hour, we decided to move downstairs where it was warmer.
It wasn’t long before all six of us were asleep at the back of the bus. Every so often I would wake up, still plugged in to the tour audio, and I’d hear “We are now passing…”. When I heard “We are now passing Kensington…” I tried to wake up Giselle because she’d wanted to see the palace. I didn’t try very hard. She barely budged and I quickly went back to sleep.
I’m not sure how many people got on and off the bus but it must’ve been a funny sight for anyone that saw us.
When it was 3pm Ajay woke us up so that we could get off the bus and head to the nearest underground station to catch the subway back to our apartment. It was check in time!
Our Airbnb was conveniently in Zone 2, next to an underground and overground station, as well as a supermarket. We picked up some groceries in preparation for dinner time.
When we arrived at the apartment I found the lockbox had no key inside it. I hoped the cleaner was still inside and banged on the door. She heard us and opened it. I asked her about the key but she didn’t speak English so she shrugged and went downstairs to another apartment.
We all headed upstairs to our apartment and found that another family were already inside. They had settled in with their groceries and their luggage. The French mum showed me her Airbnb inbox which had the exact same instructions I had in my inbox for checking in to the apartment.
It was awkward.
Both of us were trying to connect to the wifi to contact the host and find out why we were double booked. In the process of looking for the internet connection, I decided to go downstairs and ask the cleaner, or at least connect to her wifi in her apartment so I could contact the host.
Turns out, the downstairs apartment was our Airbnb and the cleaner was only there because she was waiting for a replacement washing machine. The host had given us the wrong instructions to the apartment. Phew! We had accomodation for the night 🙂
The French family were lovely and their youngest son told us how he loved rugby and followed the All Blacks. We told him we were going to Vannes (in France) to watch my cousin play rugby there. They were surprised to hear there was a kiwi in Vannes playing rugby.
The next day I had planned to go to the Natural History Museum but we were all so tired we slept in. Fortunately Ajay had a lunch catchup with Aucklanders that had moved to London so that encouraged me to get the kids out of the house at 11am – still enough time to see a little of the museum.
By the time I had stopped for lunch (and then cookies) and then navigated to the museums, it was 1pm. Carmelo was not impressed with my timeliness but I was impressed with his navigation of the underground train routes as well as getting us to the museum. I wanted to focus on looking after Lui and Kenzo so I had handed the maps over to Carmelo and Giselle – one less thing for me to have to think about.
There were a few museums to see. Carmelo wanted to see the Science Museum. Giselle wanted to see the Art Museum. Kenzo wanted to see the Dinosaur Museum. Because we’d hyped up the dinosaurs, we decided we better see the Natural History Museum first and then if we had time, we could see the Science Museum and then the V&A Museum.
I was surprised by how much the kids were enjoying the museums. The museum’s we were used to did not get anywhere near this much enthusiasm or engagement so we hardly went there.
I needed to use the loo but there was a massive queue so I asked my teens to take the two little ones into the dino exhibit without me.
When I went to find my children I wandered through the whole dinosaur exhibit but did not spot them. There were crowds of school groups so I thought I may have missed them. Fortunately all the museums have free wifi. They were in a different exhibit filled with stuffed mammals and were on their way to the marine life. We saw a life-size replica of a blue whale which really put it’s size into perspective.
There was one part of the dino exhibit that I wanted Kenzo and Lui to see. It was something Carmelo and Giselle had seen ten years earlier when they were four and two years old.
Giselle recorded the reactions. It was the same way Carmelo and Giselle had reacted when we last came to the NHM. They were scared! There was a robotic, life size T-Rex that roared and moved it’s head. Kenzo was not impressed. He said he wasn’t scared but he also said he didn’t want to move closer to the dinosaur.
We went back to the marine life. Everything was so engaging and I could see we could’ve spent the whole day in this one exhibit. Carmelo and Giselle were learning heaps and loved showing their little brothers the toys and info they were learning.
I started rushing them along because I knew Carmelo and Giselle were also keen on the Science exhibit. We left by 3pm and walked around the corner.
We entered the Science museum and immediately Kenzo and Lui were engaged in the Space Exploration area. There were lots of models of rocket ships and a huge globe that turned into various planets or the sun. There were real rocket boosters and astronaut suits from old rocket ships and explanations of how they worked.
This time it was Carmelo rushing everyone along. He wanted to get to the “VR exhibit” on the third floor (It took me a few minutes to realise he meant Virtual Reality). There were too many interesting things to distract us along the way, but eventually we reached the third floor, not the VR section.
We were welcomed by life size and miniature size planes of all types and models. I told Carmelo and Giselle to go ahead to the virtual reality section because Kenzo and Lui were loving the planes. There were real life turbine engines from all sorts of planes and engines from a variety of ages. It was hard to get Kenzo to leave here, he loves planes and engines.
By this time Ajay had bumped into Carmelo and Giselle and booked them into the VR machine (you need parental permission). They looked relaxed going in to the pod but coming out, they had definitely had an exciting experience. It was a pilot experience for the armed forces. At one point the pod took a nose dive – I had assumed they crashed, but they hadn’t. They said it was very realistic and difficult to control.
It reminded us of the so-called virtual reality experiences in one mall in Cancun where the player had a headset over his eyes and the controls in front, meanwhile, an employee shook the chair around while watching the screen, so as to simulate movement – lol!!
Being in Mexico for three months gave us little access to the usual American movies that would show up in New Zealand cinemas. The ones that did make it to Mexico were dubbed over in Spanish. We were fortunate that when Into The Spiderverse came out we were able to see it in English. That was the only one that was family friendly in English.
When we arrived in London, we decided we would see a movie. We were hoping that Captain Marvel would be out by then but we were one week early. So we saw Lego Movie 2 instead. I fell asleep in it. I can’t say if it was the movie or the jet lag catching up to me.
It was super late when we came out of the cinemas but still we were able to explore Leicester Square which was open for tourists. We checked out the M&M shop and the Lego shop. We bought ourselves tonnes of M&M’s and polished them shortly after. The teens had fun showing the little ones around the lego shop.
We realised China Town was just around the corner and couldn’t resist grabbing a late dinner. It had been months since we had eaten any form of asian food.
We didn’t miss the opportunity and went into the nearest kitchen serving roast duck. I had delicious veggie noodle stir fry, Ajay ordered pork and duck, Carmelo ordered dumplings and Giselle ordered spring rolls. We loved it!
We had ticked all our boxes of important things to do in London. Now we were ready to head back to our Airbnb for the night, ready to fly to Germany to see the family.