The Big Smoke & Us

Since moving to Cheshire from London nearly 12 years ago, I still hold a deep fondness for the place in my heart.  I’ve been back many times for work and play, and now my boys are older it’s great to go back with them, to be a tourist with some ‘on the ground, in the know‘. As our Christmas school hols lasted into the first week of Jan we took the opportunity to visit the Big Smoke.  Of course, you can’t cram in everything London has to offer over three days, but we did try!  40 Years ago my Mum and Dad (thanks, so glad you did) brought me and my brother for two days to the capital, my first experience ever of our biggest city.

traflagarI remember it well, I was five at the time, and definitely loved it from the get-go.  Whilst we visited this time, I recreated a picture my Mum took of us all in Trafalgar Square, with my own husband and boys (aged very nearly 10 and 14).

It made me feel quite emotional as my Dad passed away some years ago and he would have loved to see this photo recreation.

Lots has changed, the Congestion Charge, no more Route-masters and there seems to be a Pret every other block.  We had no time to waste, just two nights and three days to explore The Big Smoke.

Novotel Blackfriars – Fab Hotel No 1

First port of call was our Novotel in Blackfriars, we’d stayed in a Novotel the previous summer in Versailles and wanted to see if London could match it.

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The Outside – we parked round the back

Just over Blackfriars bridge from the north, the hotel is easy to find, with the usual London parking available.  What we loved about Novotel Blackfrars is that it is so chic and understated, there is no formal reception just some cute little desks where you are greeted from.  The boys were given Yo-Yo’s which still are a big hit; we had to stop them yo-yoing in our room for fear of breaking something!

There were four of us, sharing one room, and in some hotels we’ve stayed in this has been a little compact, but not here.   The room had a huge double bed and two put-up beds for the children.   Again, in other hotels the children’s beds have been poor examples of camp beds, creaking and paper-thin mattresses.  But not here, big thick proper comfy mattresses on a sturdy, squeak free base, and to top it all both beds were made up properly with sheets, pillow and a duvet.   After a quick refresh, we asked at the front desk how to get to the Tate Modern and were furnished with a map and some top tips.  Returning to the hotel after dinner we visited the pool and spa, I swam about and went into the whirlpool whilst the boys checked out the well-equipped gym.  There was even music underwater!  Having the spa was a great welcome to our aching feet and decorated beautifully, a total oasis of calm.

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The dreamy spa & pool

We all had a quick shower or bath, and the highlight of the bathroom was the switch that turned the glass panel between the bathroom and bedroom from frosted to completely see through.  Oh, what fun the boys had turning this on and off, and pressing their buttocks against the screen! (which I cleaned afterwards).  The room was bright and fresh, with curtains that acted as total blackout; important for those with younger children.  Being in the heart of the City the hotel was quiet and with a window open slightly (I’m not keen on hotels where you can’t have at least just a crack of air), we all had a great night’s sleep.

Next morning it was off to breakfast, I’ve always been a total fan of a hotel breakfast.  A wide variety of fresh, hot and cold food you haven’t prepared yourself at your fingertips, what is not to love?  We all like our eggs done differently so the choice of poached, fried, boiled and scrambled suited us all.  My youngest who is 10 at the end of this month was in charge of the toast machine and he did a fab job.

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The bathroom screen ‘unfrosted’

Coffee was rich and hot served in little silver flasks. All the staff we talked too I think were French, I could be wrong, but they were all super-friendly and very smiley.   It was tough to leave but London awaited, and after a great night and sumptuous breakfast at Novotel Blackfriars we were primed and ready to take it on.  At some hotel groups, children are just an afterthought, an add-on that are hardly considered, but here at Novotel children are just as important, in every way,  as any other guest.  We shall definitely Novotel again very soon, we are off to Italy in the Summer, I wonder if they have them there?

Book your great family Blackfriars Novotel here

Star Wars Identities at The o2 – For Princess Leia

I’m in an all-male household with two sons and a husband, and Star Wars has seemed like a fifth member of the family sometimes.  So was I as enthusiastic as the rest of my family about going to see Star Wars Identities at The O2?  To be honest, no.  I’d even thought about spending the time in a Starbucks reading my new book whilst they got their fill, but no I bit the bullet and joined in.

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Can you feel the force boys?

I hadn’t been to The O2 before, well I had when it was the Millennium Dome back in the year 1999, but the less said about that the better.  The place is huge, stuffed full of places to eat and drink, and we soon found our way to Star Wars Identities which is tucked away in the furthest corner.  Upon arrival, you are given an earpiece and sensor to wear round your neck, with great instruction from the staff on what to do.  It’s dark and the anticipation was palpable as we were let loose into the first section.  The look on their faces as the screen your surrounded by bursts into life full of all things Star Wars, it was priceless!  You are given a wrist band that you have to tap on ten stations throughout the exhibition, which at the end gives you your Star Wars Identity, it’s hard to choose as there are so many options to think about.  In a nod to Carrie Fisher, I chose a couple related to her; I like to think I have at least one of Princess Leia’s characteristics.  The whole place is a cross between a geeks paradise/film lover’s nirvana.

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Hair on the back of the neck tingles!

There are so many things that made the hairs on the back of our necks stand up, from the framed original sketches of some of the early character developments such as Chewbacca, to some of the actual models of ships used in the films staged to look like there were travelling at light speed.  We all loved the mix of props, my eldest loved the drawings and my youngest loved the droid helmet selection.  I loved seeing Han Solo frozen in the block from the Empire Strikes Back, and my husband loved seeing Yoda, R2D2 and C3PO close up. Darth Vadar is there too, you just have to wait till you find him.

When you get to the end you scan your bracelet and your very own Star Wars identity appears before your eyes!  What can I say, I loved it and was glad I hadn’t missed out, the force was definitely with us all.

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Our Star Wars Identities

Book your tickets here on till September 3rd 2017

London Hilton Metropole, Edgeware Road – Fab Hotel No 2

If our Novotel was a quiet chic cousin, then the Hilton Metropole is the big fun uncle.  At the very end of the bright lights of Edgware Road’s restaurants sits this big tall beast of a hotel, with a bustling, busy lobby with an array of people coming and going.   Checking in we felt like we were royalty with everything we needed offered and in a matter of moments the super-quick lift whisked us up to the 12th floor to THE VIEW of the trip.

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Room with a view

As far as the eye could see London stretched out before us, with cars, buses and taxis snaking endlessly below us.  Hot and tired from a day’s sight-seeing on foot, we went to the pool and spa.  Although a little cold the pool was a relief and being able to see the sun setting through the glass roof was lovely.  Our room was huge and had a desk the boys took turns in sitting at, not to mention two TV’s to choose from!  I especially loved the lights that peeked out from just under the headboard which gave lovely soft light as we all got ready for bed.   We had two huge double beds and a sofa bed to argue over, and as we settled down to sleep we left the curtains open to sink in the twinkling lights of the view.  The location is great and we walked down Edgeware Road to see all the middle eastern restaurants, people smoking bubble pipes, we even got invited to try some baklava at one place which was delicious.

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Our Big Room

Breakfast was a marvel, over 1,000 people to feed (and this was a quiet day!) and it was all done so effortlessly.  We had a chat with one of the managers who said the breakfast service was ‘like a ballet’ and all parts had to work seamlessly for it to be a perfect production.   We all went for something different I had a mushroom and herb omelette made in moments in front of me, my eldest had a huge stack of pancakes, banana and maple syrup, the youngest had a mini-full English to match Dad’s large full English.  Everything presented and cooked just as I would at home, no greasy-spoon fayre here!  Even though we’d both lived in London we’d lost our bearings so needed some help from the hotel, who’d soon whipped out a map and marked us the quickest and picturesque route to Trafalgar Square.

metro-1This hotel gives you a feeling of being an international traveller and what life in hotels should be about, busy, efficient and with great attention to detail.  I hope our stay here inspires my children to travel the globe knowing what a great hotel should look and feel like.

Book your big hotel experience here

The Rainforest Cafe, Haymarket – Roar!

When I lived in London I walked past this place a 1,000 times and dismissed it as a tourist trap, but now as a tourist I wanted to go!  I’d looked at some Facebook reviews before I went, always a bad idea, as only the bad ever seem to get posted.

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Nellie

I wasn’t wrong, the place had got a bit of a kicking recently online, oh well, when in Rome!  You enter via the shop full of every stuffed animal known to man and then some.  Seated by the lovely Aaron who gave us his list of recommends, right next to elephants.  My eldest a teenager can be hard to please, but even he thought this was ‘epic’ – high praise indeed.  Soon the thunder and lightning erupted and the elephants roared – hilarious!

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Lion & Monkey

 

I needed a cocktail and chose a Mojito, which had the perfect kick.  My husband weirdly had a Bloody Mary, never known him to have one ever!  Starting with a plate of Nachos and dips, all freshly made, with a large amount of green chilli’s which definitely kicked my husbands cold into touch.  Two huge Chicken Caesar Salads, one Chicken Quesadilla and one mini ribs, we all tucked in.  Aaron, our server, told us to look for the cheetah and monkeys, plus to go take a look at the fish, which the boys duly did. The food was fresh, crisp and delicious.

A themed restaurant could just turn out standard fayre, but this place doesn’t.  They kindly gave us two rainforest themed activity packs which were great and had masks – see pics.

Yes it is expensive, £127.85 inc drinks plus service, but you are a hairs-breath from Piccadilly Circus in the very centre of London!  It’s an experience and you pay for that too. I never understand people who whine about the cost, check it out beforehand if it’s not for you don’t go!  Could the interior and surroundings do with a bit of TLC?  My answer would be yes, a refresh in some parts would not go amiss.  But for making memories for my family, it was a total winner, where else can you eat dinner with an elephant?

Book your Rainforest Cafe table here

Where else did we go?

Evensong at St Pauls Cathedral; the Design Museum at it’s new home in Kensington; The Primrose Bakery in Holland Park; the Royal Observatory in Greenwich; loved standing on the Meridian line; the new Lego Store in Leicester Square; queued to get in at 8.50pm! Byron Burger One New Change; best burgers; Tate Modern, we lay in the Great Hall as part of ‘Anywhen’; Millenum Bridge; no longer wobbly; finally Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, because they are a must-do.

Is London worth the trip from Cheshire?  Yes, London is worth it from anywhere on the globe, but so easy from Cheshire with trains from all over including Crewe, Macclesfield and Wilmslow.  We drove and left the car at Westfield and used car parks/meters.  Three days is plenty if you plan in advance where you want to go.  Would I want to live there again?  Yes, but only in somewhere glam like Holland Park or Kensington, just need to find a few million to buy a house!  With a Feb half term coming up I’d encourage you to go and see what our glorious capital has to offer.

Visit London’s official website here

 

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