Friday, August 21, 2015

Things We Love About London

It’s almost a month since we got back from our London vacation but there are so many exciting things I vividly remember from our visit that urges me to go back sooner. Although I was a bit disappointed during our first two days in the city mainly because of its gloomy and rainy weather, there are things that really cling to my memories.  The great thing about travel is that as time goes along, the good memories are enhanced, and you tend to be more chill about the not so good ones.

With that in mind, here are the top things that I really appreciate about London:

Mary in her Imoga Juliet dress.  A perfect dress when taking memorable photos.  Shoes from Oca-Loca Spain.

 1.  Museums

One of the best things that we enjoyed in London are the museums.  Admissions to the museums in London are free.  You only need to pay for additional entrance fees if you want to explore special exhibitions. We stayed at the South Kensington area and we chose a hotel that was within walking distance to the National History Museum and Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museums.

A special butterfly exhibit was going on at the National History Musem that Mary definitely didn't want to miss.  Seeing her face as butterflies flew around, above, and on her was priceless.  You can definitely tell from kids faces when what they're feeling is too awesome for words, and Mary was absolutely having one of those moments while handling a gorgeous blue butterfly.

Inside the museum, Mary had lots of fun exploring the dinosaur exhibits and pointing out some of the different dinosaur types that she knew.  Special mentions were the animatronic T-Rex as well as the brontosaurus (because of Bronty from Doc McStuffins).

London | National HIstory Museum | Chichi Mary Kid's Boutique
Mary standing outside the National History Museum

Butterfly Exhibition | NHS UK | Chichi Mary Kid's Boutique

London | Dinosaur Skeleton | NHS | Chichi Mary

London | National History Museum | Chichi Mary Kid's Boutique

Just beside the National History Museum is the V&A museum, which is my personal favorite.  As they say, it's the world's greatest museum of art and design.  When we were there, there were a lot of exhibitions that really caught my interest such as “What is Luxury?” (which I would write more about in a future blog post), "Alexander McQueen: Savage and Beauty" (which set a box office in the history of the museum), and "Shoes, Pleasure and Pain?".

I love the section of the museum that features different materials and techniques used in different art forms such as architecture, fashion, paintings, ceramics and more.  And for most women and even for our dear Mary, browsing all the jewelry collection in this museum was just jaw dropping ;)  

Fashion Exhibit at the V&A London | Chichi Mary Kid's Boutique
Browsing at the Fashion Exhibition at the V&A Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum | London | Chichi Mary Kid's Boutique
Mary reading the details of the jewelry collection displayed at the V&A.

The bonus part was that Mary was able to run, play and even wade at the garden of the V&A.  Kids can also explore the Museum of Childhood at the V&A.  It was a beautiful Sunday morning when we went there and most of the kids and parents were just relaxing under the sun at the garden. 

Garden at the V&A Museum | London | Chichi Mary Kids's Boutique

Garden at the V&A Museum | London | Chichi Mary Kids's Boutique
Beautiful row of hydrangeas at the V&A.

If you would like to dine inside the museum, the interior design of the cafe is really impressive and we were very happy with the food selections. Remarkably, we've had very good experience with restaurants and cafes inside art museums -- the Boston Museum of Fine Arts also has two restaurants whose food is worth looking forward to.

Cafe at the V&A Museum | London | Chichi Mary Kid's Boutique
The dining area at V&A's cafe.

And do not miss browsing the museum shops.  There are a lot of unique and high quality items that you can find at the V&A Museum shops and I think the items are very reasonably priced.  I personally got myself a couple of accessory pieces that were uniquely beautiful, and I'm already looking forward to getting a chance to wear them.

2. Great Public Transit System

Be it bus or Tube, it’s so much easier to explore London through their public transit system.  We typically make it a point to experience the subway systems of cities that we visit so we can get a taste of how the locals travel.  Of all the big cities we've tried so far, my husband and I both agree that London's public transit system is the easiest and most convenient.  We've tried Tokyo's (bigger but way more complex), New York's (less frequent trains and it's harder to go cross town), Washington DC's (hard to walk between typical adjacent stations), Barcelona's and Paris's (both no big deal) and London is a big winner by far.  London was the easiest for me to travel by myself while having extra confidence that I won't be late meeting up later with Mary and my husband.

If you visit London, definitely get yourself their prepaid payment cards called Oyster Cards.  You not only save time by skipping the queues at the subway, but you get a discount on your transit fares as well.  Best of all, there's a daily cap to what they charge you, so after around your third trip on the Tube, you can ride as much as you want for free!  I can't say enough about how awesome this is, especially since your Oyster Card covers bus fares as well.  To top it all off, kids under 11 ride for free, so you can essentially travel as much as you want within London for $10USD a day per person.

Notting Hill Station | London | Chichi Mary Kid's Boutique
Mary & I at the Notting Hill Gate Tube Station in our matching Black Dog raincoats.  If you'te in love with Martha's Vineyard, you're definitely familiar with this brand.

During our first days in London, we would usually take the Tube. But someone advised us to try taking the bus because it was like touring the city all over again.  We tried taking London's double decker red bus during a weekend and we find the experience hassle free especially if you’re travelling with kids on a stroller. In fact, it was much easier compared to the Tube because you don’t need to carry the stroller up and down the stairs. Get on the bus with the stroller, park in the stroller/wheelchair section, enjoy the scenery, then get off the bus -- all without having your child get off the stroller.

Red Double Decker Bus | London | Chichi Mary Kid's Boutique
London's double decker red buses during a busy weekday.
Of course, who would not miss taking the famous black cabs in London? I like the fact that we didn't need to put the stroller in the trunk and ask the driver to open up the trunk for us because the interior of the car is spacious enough to accommodate strollers or luggages. 

Black Mini Cabs | London | Chichi Mary Kid's Boutique
London's black mini cabs.

3. Shopping

There’s a lot of shopping areas in London, from Oxford Street to Portabello Market up to the high end shopping at Sloane Street and Bond Street.  Sloane Street as well as Bond Street are probably the pinnacles of luxury shopping as you will see typical brands like Hermes, Chanel, Prada, Louis Vuitton, etc., and even the premium Chinese clothing label, Shanghai Tang.  This probably shouldn't come as a surprise, as London has recently been considered as the No.1 city for rich people according to Forbes Magazine.

But my topmost favorite is Harrods.  Harrods is a world known luxury department store. It is so big that you can almost treat it as a museum ;)  It's a treat to browse all the famous luxury brands in the store. For kids, aside from its extensive Toy Kingdom section there is also the Disney Bibbidi Bobbodi Boutique where girls are groomed as princesses. If your child is a Disney Princess fan, this is definitely a great option if you're visiting London.

Harrod's | London | Chichi Mary Kid's Boutique
Harrods' facade

4. Food

London is a global city and it is obviously seen through the available dining options. Aside from the traditional English food, London has great international dining options as well, being a global city that attracts immigrants from all over the world.

We enjoyed Chinese, Singaporean and Lebanese dishes, but one dish that was memorable to us was when we had Chicken Tikka Masala at an Indian restaurant located in the South Kensington area. Tikka Masala is actually Britain's national dish. It was unforgettable because it was the best Tikka Masala that we ever had.  The flavor is richer and creamier compared to what we usually get here in the U.S. and even our six year old Mary could not stop having seconds.

Indian Food | London | Chichi Mary Kid's Boutique
Tikka Masala, Lamb Curry and Sauteed Spinach

 5. West End

My family and I love musical shows and we made sure to catch a show at West End. The vibrancy of the district and the energy of Piccadilly Circus at night  reminds me that London is one of world's greatest cities. We were able to catch up my husband's all-time favorite Les Miserables and even my daughter Mary also enjoyed the musical.  We were also proud to watch a fellow Filipino, Rachelle Ann Go (who played Fantine) and she just had an amazing voice that I heard a lot of positive comments from my seatmates during the show ;)

Les Miserables | West End | Chichi Mary Kid's Boutique
Of course, we were never going to miss seeing Les Miserables at West End.

These are just the few things that we really enjoyed about London.  Indeed, London is a great place to have a vacation with your kids because there are numerous options when it comes to fun & educational family activities. It is a very kid friendly city.  My only piece of advice is just don’t forget to bring a small umbrella or a raincoat when you're roaming the city because the weather can be tricky! ;)


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