ranch life

London Calling {Part 1}

To celebrate Steven wrapping up medical training, we felt like we needed a big family vacation. And where do people go to celebrate big wins? Disney World!

So in spring 2022, in anticipation of this graduation, I contacted a travel agency to start planning a trip to Disney World. But he was graduating in June and the summer is so stinking hot, so we bumped it to the fall.

And then Steven was going to be taking his boards in November, so we didn’t want to go anywhere ahead of that. And then it would be the holidays, and we learned that the least busy time at Disney is potentially late January/ early February, so we were tentatively planning a Disney trip for that time.

And then Arsenal, Steven’s long time favorite team, started doing really well in the Premier League. And Steven knew that it’s been one of my lifelong dreams to go to England. So one day eating lunch at Cracker Barrel in July or August, Steven pitched us going to London instead of Disney and we just decided to go for it. We checked the Arsenal schedule and narrowed down a window of late April, and moved from the Disney planning section of the travel agency to the international section and went with it.

After months of planning and anticipation, on April 20, we loaded up to head to DFW airport to take an overnight flight across the pond!

We took off at 7:15 PM from Dallas to land at Heathrow at 10:15 AM London time. Liv thought it was the coolest thing to be on a plane and just ate it up. Her own TV in the headrest? The best. Her own tiny drink and snack? The best. Henry watched a movie for about 45 minutes and then took his headphones off, handed them to Steven, and rolled over to sleep for the rest of the flight. It was a mercy from the Lord because I was so worried he was going to be a wild animal on the plane. We (Steven and me) got actually very little sleep on the plane because it’s just hard to sleep on planes. The one time I actually fell asleep, the lady in front of me abruptly slammed her seat into my knees and woke me up. At one point, I looked over at Steven and found him intently watching something on his TV with no headphones and couldn’t figure out what he would be watching with no sound. The flight path. He was watching our flight path over the Atlantic. He admitted later that was not the most interesting thing to watch!

Once we landed, we retrieved our bags, found our driver, and headed to our hotel in Kensington. Clare at Mix and Match Travel lined up everything for us- hotel, car service, flights, tours, etc. I did some research to be familiar with what we wanted to do, or what different things would be like, but she booked everything for us and it was perfect! Our plan was to check in and do a double decker bus tour that afternoon, but we were so zonked, we ended up sleeping all afternoon, and then showering, and walking to a local pub for fish and chips for dinner. We went up and down the busier street one over from our hotel and found dessert and just explored a little. Then back to the hotel to bed, haha!

By the next morning, we felt a little more rested and ready to take on a full day. We started off walking about twenty minutes from our hotel down to the Natural History Museum for a before hours tour of the Titanosaur exhibit, the world’s largest dinosaur ever discovered. I was beside myself excited for Henry to see it because of his obsession with dinosaurs and had talked this up for weeks telling him we were going to see all the dinosaurs. As we wound through the museum looking at different fossils and models (also, who knew all those models in museums aren’t real?? All this time I thought that was a skeleton they found and it turns out they just found like one piece and modeled the rest. Like they found the T rex jaw bone and the rest is a model. Isn’t that crazy??), Henry looked so unimpressed. So, I leaned over the stroller and whispered “Look, isn’t that cool? Are you having fun?” and he looked me dead in the face and whispered back, “Mama, when are we getting in the jeep-jeeps to see the real dinosaurs?” As in, all my talking up had essentially convinced him we were going to Jurassic Park to see dinosaurs and all these bones were not living up to the hype. But he said later that it was fun and he enjoyed it. And I will never forget the guide telling us that the dodo bird in the case was barbarically filled out to be more full with feathers from swans from the Thames in the late 1800s, and honestly didn’t even look like an accurate dodo bird at this point. This place was wild!

We left and grabbed a quick lunch, and then mapped out our first route on the Tube to get to West End for our Lion King matinee. The kids were super pumped about this, and the Lion King was the only West End show I would have considered taking them to even though they were on the young side because I knew they’d be locked in. When we arrived at the Lyceum Theatre, we were directed to a different entrance because our seats were on the top tier and they told us it would be just up the stairs and around the corner. And then we climbed approximately 9 flights of stairs, no exaggeration. Carrying both kids, we were (as the Brits would say) knackered by the time we got to the top! (We got one characteristically British “bloody hell!” from a couple at the top right after us, and another woman declaring she was “fit now” after climbing all the stairs. It was hilarious.) Despite the climb, the show was AMAZING. Our seats on the top tier gave us full view of all the action (even though people say to sit on the bottom level so the animals walk past you), and it was all spectacular. The kids did great- Liv enjoyed the entire thing, and Henry loved it up until he fell asleep about 10-15 mins after the second act started. Both kids and Steven say this was their favorite part of the entire trip! We went from here to an Italian restaurant with amazing pizza and delicious dessert. We walked in and out of a few shops in Covent Garden, and then we navigated a packed Saturday night Tube from Covent Garden back to Kensington to our hotel.

On Sunday morning, we were up bright and early to meet our tour guide for the day. Our original itinerary had us sightseeing through London on Sunday and to Dover/ Canterbury on Tuesday, but our guide, Justin, suggested swapping because the London Marathon would be happening around a lot of the big tourist sites in the city on Sunday. The tour itinerary included Dover Castle, the Cliffs of Dover, and Canterbury Cathedral, but Justin felt like the Cathedral wouldn’t exactly entertain our small children and suggested a different third destination and I’m so glad he did! So, we loaded up Sunday morning and headed for the coast with Justin!

It wasn’t a far drive, maybe like two hours or so. We were all in the backseat of Justin’s Audi, and it wasn’t a super curvy road or anything, but I’d not eaten really anything for breakfast, and we brought a lot of sinus drainage with us from the States so the backseat, no breakfast, sinus drainage and my long time reputation of motion sickness all worked together culminating in me throwing up at some random petrol station outside Dover. I felt myself getting closer and closer to being sick as we went along, and in what I can only describe as a mercy from the Lord, the AdBlue (British DEF) warning light came on in Justin’s car and he ended up pulling over at a station to buy some just in case. Literally as soon as he stopped the car I whipped the door open and hurled up my guts. Thank the Lord for AdBlue, haha! I ended up in the front seat by myself the rest of the day and our second day with him later on.

After all that, we arrived at Dover Castle. It is a medieval castle with multiple sections, including a Roman lighthouse built at least a thousand years ago that is one of the last remaining structures of the Roman occupation, underground tunnels used in World War II for the evacuation of Dunkirk, and the original castle built around 1180 as it stands today. Despite being completely closed in, it felt like you could still continuously feel a draft (it was chilly out there- probably in the mid 50s temperature wise), and there were so many steps everywhere. But it is crazy how people with no modern tools built things that are still standing and in decent condition today! We even threw a coin in the well in the middle of the main castle that they estimate to be 134 meters deep, which according to our guide is deeper than the tallest steeple in the country (the steeple on Salisbury Cathedral is 123 meters high). On a clear day, you are supposed to be able to see across the water to the coast of France, but we were just cloudy enough not to see anything. Overall, it was super interesting!

After lunch at a local beach pub in Dover- we had fish and chips and our guide had a Sunday roast- we headed from Dover to Leeds Castle (not to be confused with Leeds, England- this is in Kent, which apparently far from Leeds). To say this place is gorgeous is a total understatement. The original castle was built in the 800s (yes, that’s not missing a digit! Around 857 AD!), and was used for centuries by different nobility, notably as a residence for Catherine of Aragon during her marriage to Henry VIII. In the 1920s, an American heiress bought the estate and completely renovated it, and this is the style it is in today. Lady Bailie was known for her love of dogs, so on our tour they gave the kids blue light flashlights and they got to find all the “invisible” dog bones throughout the castle like a scavenger hunt (which they loved!). Even better than the castle was the absolutely breathtaking grounds! Just gorgeous creeks, waterfalls, gardens, ponds- all of it was immaculate and like a botanical garden. Behind the castle is a small cafeteria and coffee shop in what used to be the stables and help quarters, and beyond that there is a garden maze, a playground, an ice cream shop, an aviary, and mini golf, plus a glamping site. Both kids petted owls and saw falcons (no petting the falcons), and we walked the grounds through the walking loop. It’s hard for me to say that I had one stand out favorite part of the trip, but this was definitely high on the list for me! (Also, I just looked this up and found out you can get married here. Can you even imagine??)

After Leeds Castle, Justin drove us back to London and we arrived back at our hotel around dinner time. We ate and crashed because as pictured below, we were exhausted!

And that wraps up our first three days! Check back for the last three days and thanks for stopping by! 🙂

2 thoughts on “London Calling {Part 1}

  1. Loved hearing all the details of your trip to England (and, of course, all the pictures)! So sorry you were car sick for part of it (Kahlyne could sympathize with you on that), but you have true grit to not let it spoil your enjoyment of a great British vacation!!!

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