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Visit the Tower of London with Kids

Visit the Tower of London with Kids

*This visit was hosted by Historic Royal Palaces, HM Tower of London.

Walking along banks of the Thames River opposite the Tower of London to visit with your kids, it’s hard to imagine these were the tallest buildings in London (or Londinium as the Romans called it when they first populated this area) and built as a fortress on this plot during the Norman Conquest in 1066. Now surrounded by sleek glass and steel highrises with highly interesting architecture, the old and the new are even more jarring.

That is, until you approach the entrance to the Tower of London. Families with kids in tow flock to the Tower because there is so much history here, and so many aspects of the Tower buildings that interest a wide variety of people.

This guy is guarding the Queen’s Residence at the Tower of London, quietly so as not to disturb whomever might be home!

For the Royal Watchers

Very few regal ceremonies is now held at the Tower of London. However, there is plenty of royal history here throughout the ages and still true to this day. The Queen’s Guard is onsite to ensure its safety and protect its riches, but also the Queen still has an official residence here. I am told members of the Royal Family are regularly honored here and have a significant presence. Who will we run into here next?

For the History Buffs

Obviously a great deal of Britain’s history has played out within these walls, and much of it recorded in books, films, podcasts and more. As we walked across the paths and courtyards, our imaginations took us back in time to when this was the active seat of the Ruler of British Holdings, near and abroad. King Richard III and his plot to overthrow his family to take the throne? Cannons fired, royal jousts with King Henry VIII? Beheadings and imprisonment and all kinds of high drama? Happened here, along with so many other stranger-than-fiction royal stories.

The Armory Building at the Tower of London houses an impressive collection of royal armor, shields, swords and other cool stuff.

For the Taggers and Street Punks

Surprisingly, one of the towers used as a jail cell for high ranking prisoners is covered with graffiti. Except in those days, they didn’t have Sharpies or cans of spray paint – they had their hands, and sometimes a makeshift chisel. The walls in this tower are covered with the messages of these prisoners etched directly into the stone. Some include intricate pictures, some are mostly words, and many are in languages other than the Queen’s English. All have a message – to their families, to God, to their guards in an attempt to prove their innocence. It’s actually very moving.

What’s this? Oh just some old graffiti left behind by a Tower prisoner in the 1500s. No big.

For the Renaissance Faire Crowd

If you really want to feel medieval, this is your place. Bring your own giant turkey leg and beer, and you’ve got a themed event to make into next year’s holiday card. Many, many things at the Tower harken back to the Renaissance, from armor to swords, from royal horses to royal guards, from tales of history to rumors from the past. All the sights, sounds, smells and colors are here for the making of new memories. (Wenches and Village Idiots not included).

For the Jewelry Bedazzled

Ok, these royal jewels are unbelievable – all $32 billion of them. We went through the line three times to see them, propelled along a moving walkway so no one would block the views. A visitor could be easily blinded by the glare off some of these stones, which weigh in at sizes up to 317+ carats. Just one stone from Queen Mother’s crown would probably power my retirement from now until I’m 100. And there had to have been at least 50 stones in just her crown alone, not to mention all the other royal crowns on display, crusted with gold and jewels and pearls and red velvet and… phew. Trust us, it’s a lot of bling to take in. Bring your sunglasses.

The Jewel House, where the royal jewels are on display. They wouldn’t allow photos inside, or instead you would be looking at a honkin’ diamond encrusted Royal Crown and Scepter.

For the Macabre

With buildings like The Bloody Tower and the Torture Chambers, there are plenty of dark things that went on within these walls. King Richard had his brother’s young sons (and heirs to the throne) disappeared from their rooms and they were never found, until centuries later when a small metal box was found under some rubble – containing the bones of children. King Henry VIII’s beheaded wives? Yep, happened here. Or the many men and women tortured on the racks and other unspeakable mechanism, guilty of sneezing to the left instead of the right or some other trumped-up charges. Those were pretty gruesome times.

See? Something for everyone. You could appease every member of your family with something here, along with a nice serving of English Sticky Toffee Pudding. Now THAT would make everyone in your family happy for sure!

 

*This visit was hosted by Historic Royal Palaces, HM Tower of London.


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Trackr Finds Your Luggage Anywhere

Trackr Finds Your Luggage Anywhere

When we travel, there’s always that tiny worry in the background about whether our luggage will arrive at the same destination that we do.That’s why we think TrackR is such a cool travel tool – TrackR finds your luggage anywhere. Through the handy smartphone app, TrackR literally tracks our bags via Bluetooth as they wind their way back to us.

Have you ever experienced lost luggage on a trip somewhere? Not so fun. Sometimes that waiting game at the airport baggage claim can get pretty dicey, as we wait and wait and wait for our bags to come out (or not), and the worry builds.

Our luggage clearly showed as being in the belly of this beast, soon to depart for London Heathrow.

Especially when travelling with kids, the parental worries grow the more all your stuff is out of your direct control. If your kids don’t have their clothes/meds/favorite teddy bear when arriving in a new destination, it can reeeeeally throw off the family dynamic if you know what I mean! Believe me, we’ve been there and it ain’t pretty.

The TrackR coin literally fits in the palm of my hand

On our recent trip to Europe, we tested out the TrackR technology by placing the coin-sized unit in the zippered pocket of our largest bag. The size of a quarter and about twice as thick, the TrackR coin took up no space at all but delivered a large-sized serving of tech comfort. My inner worries about arriving at London Heathrow Airport with all of our possessions were immediately quelled.

What’s cool about this tech is my ability to track our bag from the time I drop it off with the desk agent at check-in. From there, I can check my iPhone to view my bag’s location through the app. Actually, it was pretty cool to watch it blip its way through the inner workings of the airport and then into the belly of our airplane. When we arrived at our destination in Scotland, I was able to check it again just to be sure via the Bluetooth connection (not GPS).

Checking on my iPhone, I could see the exact location of my bag while we traveled in Scotland

TrackR also has a crowdsourcing component if my bag gets lost. The technology allows users who have the app open within bluetooth range to locate any devices near them, and then TrackR automatically pings me with the current location of my item.  According to TracR, users help each other locate more than 2 million lost items EVERY DAY. Wow that’s a lot of lost stuff, now found. Watch this video on TrackR to learn more about how it works.

2DadsWithBaggage says four thumbs up on TrackR! You can get the devices too, and I have a promo code to share with you:

Use the promo code SUPERPARENT  for 15% off your purchase!

We’ll be doing a giveaway very soon, and you can register for a chance to win your own TrackR! Check back for more details!

 

TrackR is easy to use – just download the app, pair it with the coin via bluetooth, and you are ready to roll!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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One Star House Party: Pop-Up Restaurant in London

One Star House Party: Pop-Up Restaurant in London

Ava and I felt so trendy recently night in London – we were invited to the Opening Night of a hip pop-up restaurant called One Star House Party, located inside Unit 1 Gallery in Notting Hill. We didn’t quite know what to expect when we got out of the taxi in a random warehouse neighborhood (clearly not Julia Roberts’ Notting Hill), and it turned out to be a truly outstanding evening.

The owners of One Star House Party are a talented group of young chefs and restauranteurs with quite a shared pedigree, all with the common goal to pop up 20 restaurants in 20 countries in 20 months. They literally traveled the world, learning about local cultures and cuisine along the way in order to build a menu as unique as their global experiences. The outcome is a spectacular mix of dishes, each true the roots of their origin country.

Setting up a working kitchen inside an art gallery can’t be easy, but these pros made it seem so

8 Courses

We sampled eight courses from countries they visited, including:

  • Oman – a warm aubergine bread of some kind with a dipping sauce that was out of this world.
  • Vietnam – barbequed pork belly in a sweet and salty marinade and lettuce cups that had us eating the remnants off the serving platter.*
  • China – charred and sliced raw scallops in a delicious broth with maybe white beans and some mystery spices.
  • Mumbai – a vegetable curry with a dollop of cheesy paneer for the perfect blend of textures.
  • Cape Town – A delicious beef filet with Biltong spices, complemented with chestnut butter and beetroot drizzle.
  • Thailand – another dessert that I can hardly remember because wine (always blame the wine).
  • Nepal – From the sherpas of Mt. Everest came this unbelievable concoction of baked pumpkin/porridge/custard inside a hollowed and still-warm mini pumpkin. So good that Ava also ate the guy’s next to her before he could notice.

That’s seven. For the life of me I cannot remember the eighth! I’m positive it was as delicious as all the rest.

Both beautiful and delicious, this beef with South African spices is drizzled in smoked beetroot

Gallery Space

On top of all that, the art gallery space in which we dined set the perfect tone for our meal. Unit 1 Gallery is a rotating space for interesting exhibitions, this one featuring the work of Hermione Allsop. Her pieces are a combination of everyday objects, reformed into interesting sculptural shapes. Unit 1 is owned by American expat Stacie McCormick, an artist of great significance in her own right. This is a must visit when you are visiting London.

We can’t wait to see where this talented group pops up next! Maybe in a city near you…..

The plain white tables and walls were the perfect partner for Hermione Allsopp’s colorful sculptures

*We loved the story behind the Vietnamese dish. Evidently they were riding bikes along the road and came upon two Vietnamese women cooking on the side of the road. Upon sampling their dishes, the chefs convinced these women to allow them to come to their home at 4 a.m. the next morning, helping to  prepare the meals for the next day in order to learn how to make them.

The Unit 1 Gallery loft contains work in progress by artists in residence


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Visit The Making of Harry Potter at WB Studios London

Visit The Making of Harry Potter at WB Studios London

*Our visit was made possible by Warner Bros. London, and this is a sponsored post. (But we totally would have paid for our tickets, because the experience was so amazing).

I think my inner child was running rampant when we visited The Making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studios London recently. In fact, I might have had more fun than Ava! She had to wait for me at the end of each exhibit while I indulgently slow-walked, taking in every detail of this extremely well-executed display of Harry Potter memorabilia.

Dumbledore’s office was recreated to perfection on this set

Preserving the soundstages and facilities where they filmed the movies, The Making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studios London has presented many of the sets and props actually used in making the films. With a panache only Hollywood can really deliver, the entire experience is soooo cool for kids and adults alike.

Here’s just a sampling of some the things we loved:

The Great Hall at Hogwarts

Entering this massive hall built inside a soundstage was the first step in our visit, and we were instantly awed by its size and presence. It was quite clearly the actual set from the films, and was even filled with props to bring us fully into the scene. The long tables were set on either side of the hall, as though students were ready for their meal. At the front, mannequins dressed in the actual costumes worn by Dumbledore, Professor McGonnigall, Hagrid and the gang made it all the more magical.

When we visited in October, there were additional decorations for Halloween in celebration of The Dark Arts. Jack-o-lanterns hung eerily from the rafters, and provided another layer of coolness to the hall. We could picture Harry, Hermione and Ron feeling right at home.

The scene from Harry’s house in the first movie when Dumbledore’s letters finally arrive

The Potions Room

Severus Snape’s cellar rooms from the movies were on display, along with a cool video of the set designers explaining how they created all the jars of unsavory concoctions and bits and pieces of mythical creatures ready for the making of magical potions. Some of the cauldrons were clearly in the midst of mixing up some magical potions, complete with wands in motion automatically stirring the ingredients.

Professor Snape’s dungeon of potions and mysteries

Hogwarts Express

Can I tell you how much we geeked out by being to walk onto the train and imagine our trip to Hogwarts from London’s Kings Cross Station, Platform 9 ¾? The train is full size, billowing steam from its engines and filled with compartments each with their own scenes from the various movies. Hermione’s purse, Harry’s glasses, Ron’s sweater – these and many more dot the seats inside the train.

Butter Beer

It’s not a true visit with Harry Potter if there isn’t some Butter Beer to sample, and this was no exception. Ava and I sampled a pint each, complete with frothy mustaches to prove it. It was delicious and worth the extra British Pounds for the commemorative mug.

A Butter Beer mustache makes me strangely happy

Makeup and Special Effects

We were fascinated to walk through a very large and detailed display of how the makeup artists created all those fanciful creatures in the films. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it was amazing to learn how they made Hagrid look so large, how actors were transformed into elves and other unsavories – even down to the fingers and toes. We spent a great deal of time studying all the interesting behind-the-scenes secrets the filmmakers used to create the fanciful worlds we all loved seeing come to life in the films. Videos explain the secrets behind the magic without spoiling the artifice – very well done.

The makeup and mask area was so fascinating and magical

Daigon Alley

Another favorite was Daigon Alley, decked out in mind-altering perspective to appear longer and deeper than it really is. The buildings are colorful and aged, with windows full of wares you might expect to find inside the wand or sweets shop. There are lots of surprises in the Alley, and we wouldn’t want to give them away, so you will have to spy them out for yourselves!

The colors, sights and sound sof Daigon Alley were spectacular!

Getting There

The Making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studio London is not actually in London, but a suburb easily reachable by tube and train. We navigated easily from our hotel in the Mayfair neighborhood, reaching the Watwick station in about 40 minutes time. Once there, a motorcoach was waiting at the station to drive us to the studios, just 10 minutes outside of town.

Plan on spending a large part of your day at The Making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studio London. There is so much to see, and no reason to rush through it. From the time we left our hotel until returning back, we had spent about 6 hours total. And every minute worth it!

Tickets

We strongly urge reserving tickets well in advance of your visit, because this tour is very popular and sells out quickly! Tickets can be purchased through the Warner Bros. Studio Tour website, and run about $52 for adults and about $41 for kids (under 4 years old are free).

Yikes this Scary Mermaid gave us the creeps!

*Our visit was made possible by Warner Bros. London, and this is a sponsored post. (But we totally would have paid for our tickets, because the experience was so amazing).