After Glasgow, it was on to London via train.
We went to London specifically to see the Palace of Westminster (and we had to stop there anyway en route to our next destination).
Going to see Westminster is not unusual; most people who go to London see the Houses of Parliament.
It's kind of hard to miss the place.
But for L and LJ, seeing this building was extra special...
The interiors of Westminster, including Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben’s clock face, were designed by a man named Augustus Pugin. Sir Charles Barry designed the building as a whole but it was Pugin who was responsible for the Gothic interiors, wallpapers, furnishings, stained glass, metalwork, wood carving, upholstery, furniture and royal throne. Pugin designed many buildings throughout the United Kingdom, but Westminster is his most well-known.
Pugin was L’s great, great, great grandfather!
Seeing this building was something we really wanted to do. LJ has long known about her family connection to Westminster and is quite proud. We talked a lot about it while at home and even watched a BBC documentary about the building in anticipation of our visit.
But there was a problem…
We were only in London for a day and a half and there were no tours running because the Houses were still in session. Plus, Elizabeth Tower is currently being restored and is completely covered in scaffolding until 2021, so there were no tours there either. Our only chance of seeing the interior was to queue up to watch the debates from the public galleries, much like Question Period in Canada.
We figured that it being summer, it being London, there being no tours, and it being prime vacation time...the line would be LONG!
So we had pretty much resigned ourselves to just seeing the outside.
Instead, we bought tickets for a hop-on/hop-off bus tour and got LJ pumped to see all the other big sites we’d read about. I’ve always scoffed at the idea of those bus tours but have since changed my mind. If you’re short for time, these tours are a great way to see the city, especially with kids. It was nice to relax and take it all in from the top deck; and the audio commentary was really well-done. All three of us learned so much and saw so much without needing to rush around, stare at a map or sit in the Tube.
Anyway, when the bus pulled up to Westminster we decided to hop off and get a picture of L and LJ in front of the Palace. As we wandered around looking for a good photo op, we came across an entrance where a handful of tourists were being allowed in. L went up, spoke with the guard and came back with a big green card that granted us entry!
We walked through the gate, quickly went through security, walked into the Palace and found ourselves complete awestruck.
It was so easy!!! And free!!!
We had to wait a few minutes to go into the galleries so L started chatting with one of the guides. When he found out who L and LJ were, we were whisked away to the Pugin Room – a special room in the Palace where people drink tea and eat treats. He didn't bring us there to snack (unfortunately), but rather to show us an original portrait of Pugin himself.
The guide also showed us some small heads of men and women that were carved into the corner pillars of another room. Three of the four women had scarves covering the mouth. He told us that legend has it that Pugin did this to protest women not being able to vote; however, when the government found out they told him to stop with the political messaging and stick with the art. That’s why the fourth woman is uncovered.
The two men we spoke with were very passionate about Pugin and seemed genuinely excited to meet L and LJ. They encouraged us to come back another day when the Houses weren’t sitting so we could have a better, more Pugin-specific tour.
After talking with them we got to watch the debates in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. LJ had tons of questions about how the UK's government works and how it works in Canada. We talked about the similarities and differences and about the role of the Queen and the Governor General.
Social studies really got personal and came to life for LJ that day. I couldn’t have asked for a better homeschool civics and history lesson.
Worldschooling for the win!
Oh, and they even sell original Pugin floor tiles in the gift shop! But at 200 pounds each, we skipped that souvenier and LJ bought a Big Ben pen instead.
So what else did we do in London?
We stayed at a Holiday Inn Express outside the city centre, but close to a subway line. Because London accommodations are expensive, we used our Air Miles and chose this hotel for its free breakfast, some of which we smuggled out to use as snacks during the day. There was a close call when one morning, the bag carrying our goods broke and fruit, muffins, croissants and Nutella packs spilled all over the ground in front of the main entrance. Luckily, we were able to make a safe getaway and keep hold of the contraband treats.
We also ate tacos at Wahaca, hung out in the playground at Regent’s Park, saw the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, continued on the bus tour to see all the big sites, took a boat ride on the River Thames, and had a picnic in Hyde Park. LJ collects football jerseys and had been saving to buy a specific Arsenal one, so we also did a little shopping in Piccadilly Circus.
We wished we had more time in London as we would have loved to visit some of the many free museums, but I think we made the most of our short time there and found some pretty special memories. And honestly, our wallet was happy to leave London! We’re on a budget and London did push the boundaries a bit. It also left of exhausted (see photo above)!
Luckily, our next stop allows us ample time to recharge our batteries and our bank account…
London with Kids
Where we stayed:
Holiday Inn Express - London Royal Docks
How we got there:
Train from Glasgow Central Station to Kings Cross in London (booked via Loco2)
What we did in London:
Dinner - Wahaca at Oxford Circus
Playground at Regent’s Park
The Original London Tour (included boat cruise on River Thames)
Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
Palace of Westminster
Lillywhites at Piccadilly Circus
Lunch - Zizzi at Tower Hill
Dinner - Picnic in Hyde Park