After months of planning and posting here -- thanks to all those who responded and helped me through various questions/dilemmas in planning-- we took our two-week family trip to England and Scotland in mid to late July. It was our family's first visit anywhere in Europe. We had a lovely and memorable time -- and still get little fits of sadness whenever we run into a bit of Britain that's made its way home with us... an English location still cached on our laptop weather website... an Oyster card stashed in someone's wallet... a Marks & Spencer hand sanitizer... a London location we've now actually been to when watching "Sherlock"... anything really... sniff, sniff...
I thought I would report here in case any of our experiences might be entertaining and/or helpful. Keep in mind we are an active family of five-- with kids 7, 12 and 14. (This would have been a different trip, no doubt, had my husband and I been on our own).
I won't bore you with how we got to London from Pittsburgh, but let's just say it involved a good amount of stress and flying our whole family of five on standby, not once, but twice, due to factors outside our control!
Wednesday, July 12: We arrived in Heathrow around 11:30 am for the first part of our journey -- a week in London. We got through customs, and found a SIM card machine to purchase cards for my husband's phone and mine. We found our way easily onto the Heathrow Express (we'd purchased 30-day advance tickets pretty cheaply, but 90-day advance would have been dirt-cheap, had I been on top of things!) after filing a claim for three missing bags (!) which we’d checked. We took the Heathrow Express to Paddington (fast—about 15 minutes and not crowded), where we wandered to the tube station. A helpful employee got us set up with our Oyster cards— two seven day travel cards for hubby and I and two kids’ pay as you go cards for the girls (our 7 yr. old son rode for free and the girls got a half-price discount). We got the tube from Paddington to Kensington High St., got off, got our key from a nearby lock box, and found the flat we'd rented through Airbnb. We loved "our" London neighborhood. We were .2 mile walk from the Kensington High St. tube station and shops, but as soon as you rounded the corner, the street got quiet and residential. We had our choice of a very fancy Whole Foods for groceries or a very inexpensive but basic Sainsbury's in the other direction. There were loads of shops (including a Boots and various clothing shops like H&M-- helpful for that lost luggage stuff we had to replace). We got some basic provisions and settled into the flat. Around 5ish, which felt like noon to us Americans, we wandered out for an early pub dinner. We were a little unsure how that would go with three kids with us and had a false start at one pub that didn't feel very kid-friendly and was rather crowded with adults. We found another place very near our flat called Elephant and Castle and asked if kids were welcome. They were and we sat in a corner booth and happily occupied ourselves with pints of ale and cider (mom and dad) and some very tasty sparkling juice drinks for the kids. We ordered a traditional pub meal and found the food tasty (despite what some say about pub food), and had a real, jolly, pinch-me-I'm-eating-at-a-pub-in-London! moment.
After dinner, we walked several blocks to Holland Park and explored. The kids found the Adventure Playground, and it was really cool to be with the locals-- not a tourist in sight that we could tell! (Our family really enjoys getting the real flavor of a place, for at least part of our stay, though we definitely do the tourist-y things too...)