One Mom's Pre-Olympic Adventure in London and Paris: Part Two

From the London Eye to the crown jewels, four amazing days with my twin boys in London.
-Deborah Perry Piscione,

Drake and Dominick in LondonDrake and Dominick in London

Day 1: Friday

The London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden and Leicester Square.

As soon as we arrived at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel (162.33 GBP or $251.54 per night)., we were amazed by the view of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye from our hotel suite, and the size and comfort of the room, not typical for London. I had not spent much time on the South Bank before, but this location is within walking distance of about every site on our must-see list, except for the Tower of London. The Westminster and Waterloo tube stops are a few short blocks away, so we were never in need of pricey taxi rides.

Once we checked in, I made all of us drink a lot of water and sleep for a few hours before our 3:00 pm ticket to ride the London Eye, the enormous Ferris wheel that allows you to see most of London with a bird's eye view. This 30 minute ride is a treat and gives you the opportunity to get quickly acclimated to the surrounding neighborhoods.

From there, I just had to take the boys over to Piccadilly Circus and do the walk to Covent Garden, areas that I spent so much time in during my time in London. In many ways London has changed, but it many ways it's exactly the same. I missed seeing many of the pubs I used to frequent, and cringed to see the Starbucks on every corner that once housed London's famous and traditional pubs.

Next I wanted to plot how to get some theater tickets. My boys are fans of the "Horrible Histories," a popular London-based book and magazine series, tickets to its newly created play was a must. We also ran over to the half-price ticket office in Leicester Square, but they laughed at me when I asked if they had any half price tickets to The Lion King. The play is nearly sold out, and "Disney does not discount," I was told. I vacillated over whether I wanted to spend the money since we could see The Lion King back in the states for a fraction of the cost. (The Dollar to the British Pound is not favorable. During our trip the exchange rate was $1.66 for every pound.)

Day 2: Saturday:

Parliament, the Natural History Museum, a pub for traditional fish and chips, The Lion King.

Saturdays are the days that Parliament allows foreign visitors to tour its historic buildings. I wasn't sure it would be of interest to the boys, but there is so much ancient war history that they were entranced just touching the stone wall entrance to the House of Commons that had been damaged by bombs back in 1941.

The Natural History Museum is not to be missed. A friend of mine went there a few years ago, and said I'd be amazed by how many dinosaur artifacts they have. Still, I was not prepared to walk in and encounter dinosaurs galore -- and even one that was left partially excavated!

I broke down and took the boys to The Lion King, and it was worth every penny. It's a beautiful story that is great for impressionable children and the production is really fantastic. I had chills when the actors performed solos.

Afterwards we grabbed a bite to eat at the White Horse pub outside of Covent Garden. Even though we were in the heart of the theater district, this spot is a favorite among locals and it was nice to escape from all the tourists and soak up the authentic vibe. However, the fish and chips were not the fish and chips I was accustomed to, and my boys were a bit turned off by the attached heads and tails of this fish!

Day 3: Sunday (It just happened to be Mother's Day!)

Tower of London, China Town, and "Horrible Histories"

The Tower of London is actually a castle that was built in 1070. It is most famously known for holding the crown jewels, so I knew I had to take a look to see what all the fuss was about. I have to admit, they were beautiful. There was also a new "prisoner" exhibit where we got to see where the ancient convicts were once held and learn the stories about what landed them in there in the first place. A little creepy, but interesting and the boys seemed to love it. (Adults: 20.90 GBP or $32.37; Children under 16: 10.45 GBP or $16.20; Family group rate: 55.00 GBP or $85.20)

Wong Kei is a beautiful four-story Chinese restaurant located in the heart of China Town in London. The prices were cheap and the food was delicious! Just be sure you come prepared to pay with cash because they do not accept credit or debit cards.

Unlike its name, the "Horrible Histories" production is anything but horrible. The performances take the audience back in time and give the "real story" about what went on in Britain, Egypt and many other countries in the distant past. The play is based on a television show of the same name, which is derived from the book series. The show is about one hour and ticket prices are 16 GBP (about $25). The show is great for families and children of all ages to enjoy and even (don't tell your kids) learn a little!

Day 4: Monday

The Churchill War Room, Hamleys Toy Shop, and the London Transport Museum

The Churchill War Room is a museum that takes the viewer back in time to the secret hideout of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the Blitz in London during WWII. The rooms are laid out as if nothing has been touched since Churchill and his War Cabinet left it in the 1940s. The museum is very kid-friendly with "hands-on" artifacts for children. Admission was a bit pricey at around $25 for adults (16 GBP). However, children under 16 years were free, which was a nice surprise upon entry.

Walking into Hamleys Toy Shop in London, I immediately knew what a dream-come-true it was for my boys. Giant stuffed teddy bears, model airplanes, plastic swords ... I was worried I would lose them in the store! For being around for over 250 years, it has established itself as one of the best toy stores in the world, so it was obvious we had to come check it out.

The London Transport (LT) Museum is located at Covent Garden in a beautiful Victorian-inspired building. Inside the museum you will find different types of "transport" used throughout history in London. Included are examples of trains, railroad cars, buses, trolleys, and trams. A current and very interesting exhibit that is being shown until October 2012 is the "Mind the Map" exhibit which displays the amazing map collection of the museum and describes how maps influenced London and the public. Never-before-seen maps and artwork will be on display, some by very influential London artists. (Adults: 13.50 GBP or about $21; children under 16 free)

In part three -- the boys and I head to Paris!

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