Take the grandchildren to London!

The highlight of our visit - meeting Bill, the Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London

It started small

Wouldn’t it be great if we could visit London with the grandchildren.  A day trip? But there’s too much to see in a day! Too much to plan! A lot could go wrong!

Retford Station canopy detail over Platform 1
Retford Station canopy detail over Platform 1

This will take some careful planning

A small package of ‘clues’: an ‘I Spy London’ book; a children’s map of London; a London sticker book; a Union Flag wallet, pen and notebook – plus a ‘golden ticket’ – all parcelled up to make a unique and memorable Christmas gift which caused huge excitement.

Save the date

As soon as we decided with our daughter that we could go on the ‘Inset Day’ before the February half-term holiday, we looked for appropriate travel, visit and stay deals.

Travel

The first great deal was with LNER https://www.lner.co.uk/.  Booked in advance, seats reserved and for just a little extra First Class wahay! So that’s brunch sorted!

So excited. We’re going to London
So excited. We’re going to London

Easy to get around

Transport for London TFL https://tfl.gov.uk/make it easy to get around London with an Oyster card, or even more easily, cost-effectively and efficiently with just a debit card.  It can be tapped at the entrance and exit of every underground station – no faffing about with ‘real money’.

And now we’re on the Underground
And now we’re on the Underground

So excited!

Evie eight-and-a-half, and Jack 6 (and their Mum and Dad too) were beside themselves with excitement.  We arrived at Retford Railway Station in time to pick up a Costa  https://www.costa.co.uk/ and see some high-speed trains flash through the station.  And then it was our turn.  It was a special treat and worth the extra to have a late breakfast and unlimited tea and coffee served to us on the train.  Wow!  Did we feel posh!

The Tower of London and the moat in glorious sunshine
The Tower of London and the moat in glorious sunshine

The devil is in the detail

To plan an epic trip like this takes a lot of forethought, time and research. National Rail  http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/ have a 2-4-1 scheme on many London attractions – that saves a huge amount of money and made it possible for the six of us to visit our first port of call, the Tower of London https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/#gs.YIrn5iaH.

The Union Flag in the clear blue sky, flies over the White Tower at the Tower of London
The Union Flag in the clear blue sky, flies over the White Tower at the Tower of London

Worth every penny

A call at the visitor centre to pick up an activity pack for the children which included a free badge and pencil and we’re in.  We managed to get onto the 1.30pm guided tour… and met Bill, the Yeoman Warder.  This man imparted so much in a very entertaining and engaging manner – if not a bit scary, he is not a man to be messed with.  The children warmed to him and were thrilled to have their picture taken with him.

The highlight of our visit - meeting Bill, the Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London
The highlight of our visit – meeting Bill, the Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London

The icing on the cake

Earlier planning had bagged us a couple of rooms at a very good rate at the Premier Inn https://www.premierinn.com in Greenwich – if you book breakfast and why wouldn’t you eat-as-much-as-you-want-buffet-style – the kids eat free.  Yes, Greenwich is a bit far out but there’s much to see there.  The Cutty Sark https://www.rmg.co.uk/cutty-sark, the maritime museum, the naval college, the market AND best of all… for a modest fee you can get there via the Emirates Airline cable car https://www.emiratesairline.co.uk/.  Truly amazing views and we were blessed with a glorious sunset too.

A ride in a cable car over the Thames
A ride in a cable car over the Thames

Let’s tick some more boxes

After a comfortable night and a good breakfast we hit the road again.  I had no idea that there is a tunnel under the Thames for walkers from Greenwich to Canning.  This was a novelty.

The Household Cavalry ride by Buckingham Palace
The Household Cavalry ride by Buckingham Palace

The Docklands Light Railway

The DLR took us to ‘Bank’ then the tube to Westminster.  Eyes popped at the sight of Westminster Bridge, Big Ben (clad in scaffolding unfortunately) the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.  A fifteen minute walk to see Buckingham Palace was rewarded with the sight of the Household Cavalry riding by.  Another fifteen minute walk (those poor little legs) to Trafalgar Square to see Nelson and the lions… then China Town still decked out for Chinese New Year and finally Covent Garden which did not disappoint.

Say hello to the lions in Trafalgar Square
Say hello to the lions in Trafalgar Square
Always something to see at Covent Garden
Always something to see at Covent Garden

Covent Garden

This is the place to go if you are on a very limited budget – it just keeps on giving.  We saw performances by a West End dancer, a juggler and his bed of nails, street artists, musicians, a string quartet, an acrobat and a man with a Diablo.  Crikey.

Two new recruits on duty
Two new recruits on duty

Memories that will last forever

Exhausted but we still managed to visit Hamleys at St Pancras and of course the Harry Potter Shop at Kings Cross.  A monumental trip but so worth it!

...and of course, ice cream
…and of course, ice cream

If you can, don’t hesitate, JUST DO IT!

Savour a Walk in the Highlands

Linn of Tummel Circular Walk

Linn of Tummel walk
View from Garry Bridge

Easy to park, easy to walk

It was free to park the car which was a bonus. The day was dry, slightly overcast and not too cold although the sun did peek through at points. Perfect weather for a good, long walk. After a flight of steps down to the river bank it was almost all flat. A well-worn path with a few steps here and there and a few tree roots along the way.

Pitlochry

Pitlochry https://www.pitlochry.org/index.html is world-famous for its ‘Salmon Leap’ which is a spectacle in the springtime when the salmon ‘leap’ to return to their spawning ground.  This was our stop of choice at about the half way point of the walk. It is a pretty, touristy, small town which has its own railway station, quite a few shops selling Tartan and shortbread.

Loch Faskally
Loch Faskally

This one is definitely worth a visit…

A particular shop that caught our eye was the whiskey shop http://robertsonsofpitlochry.co.uk/   This little place is a real gem. It has a phenomenal range of whiskeys… and gins, some with a phenomenal price tag too! Attached to the shop is what looks like a small restaurant but is actually a whiskey-tasting experience room. Each place is set with a wooden, glass-holder which takes about 5 small glasses. There wasn’t a ‘tasting’ when we were there but we did buy a couple of glasses. A lovely reminder of our visit to Pitlochry.

Malt glass
A souvenir of Pitlochry

‘Keep right on to the end of the road’

A quick coffee in the cafe across the road and we were off again to complete the circuit. We did this walk fairly recently and so the trees were decked out in their autumn colours. Just amazing, although my pictures don’t really do them justice.

Linn of Tummel circular walk
Linn of Tummel circular walk

If you ever take the ‘High Road’ to Scotland do yourself a favour, pack your walking boots and head for Garry Bridge.

Linn of Tummel circular walk
View of Garry Bridge

Santa Monica – you were amazing!

Visit Santa Monica?

…yes please, I don’t mind if I do!  When presented with an opportunity to visit a place not normally on our radar, we leapt at the chance.  Santa Monica here we come.

Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica Boulevard

A short break

Just four days – a mere snapshot in time – Santa Monica, a place of iconic signs, dreams and sunshine.  And we crammed it all in.  On a visit to family in New Jersey, USA we organised an internal flight from Newark EWR to Los Angeles LAX, it took five and a half hours but it was worth it.  An economy flight with United Airlines got us there.  We arrived in LA at 1.30pm  and hit the ground running.

The climate is warm and sunny almost all the time.   It is difficult not to fall in love with this place

Sunshade, palm trees and blue skies in Santa Monica

Use the bus

The bags were stashed in the hotel lobby and we caught the Big Blue Bus https://www.bigbluebus.com/ down ‘Santa Monica Boulevard’.  Now you’ve heard that name you know you really want to sing the Sheryl Crow song:

‘All I wanna do is have some fun
I got a feelin’ I’m not the only one
All I wanna do is have some fun
Until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard’

Ocean Park Beach, Santa Monica
Ocean Park Beach

We arrived at the beach on Ocean Avenue.  Breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and shoreline – and life on the beach.  A couple of miles walk in the glorious sunshine and it’s time to turn around.  I know it’s not really appropriate but we had heard that the ‘British Pub’ was a good place to go http://www.yeoldekingshead.com/ So we did!  The Olde Kings Head was the perfect place to go for great value for money.  Good quality food and drink, especially during ‘happy hour’. We returned a further couple of times for the Californian wine.

Pacific Park Pier

Pacific Park Pier is the end of Route 66.  A constant stream of visitors take selfies on this spot.  Here too are souvenirs and local delicacies such as funnel cake and shrimp.  There is all the fun of the fair with the rollercoaster and ‘ferris’ wheel too.  Live music,  buskers, fishing and ‘illusionists’ add the addictive vibrancy and colour.

Route 66, Santa Monica
The end of Route 66 is on Pier Park, Santa Monica

Hooray for Hollywood!

Hollywood sightseeing tours run from the Pier too.  All those iconic sites and signs can be bagged in half a day.  Worth it too, it’s the only way to tick everything off in a such a short period of time.

Walk of fame, Hollywood
Avenue of the stars

At the end of the day

There is no finer way to end the day than watch the sun go down over Santa Monica Pier.  California Dreamin’ will keep me warm though the British Winter.

 

Santa Monica Sunset
The sun sets over Pier Park, Santa Monica, Los Angeles

Thank you Santa Monica, you really were amazing.