Once upon a time, long before children were part of the equation, my husband and I traveled. We worked hard and vacationed even harder; off to the Caribbean in the Spring, overseas in the Fall and nearly every Winter weekend spent skiing in Vermont. “I work to pay for my next vacation.” I would joke. We were young and unencumbered, determined to enjoy everything our carefree lives and big fat paychecks would allow. And enjoy it we did.
And then they arrived.
All sweet gummy smiles and tiny gurgley coos. Seemingly innocent babes, ready to take over every facet of our previously fancy free lives. And so began our adventure into parenthood and all the joys (and trials) that go along with it. And our passports sat. And our passports grew dusty. And eventually… our passports expired. But we never forgot those carefree adventures and we’ve regaled our kids with stories of our trips as soon as they had the attention span to listen. Wrapping up each story with the same phrase: “When you get older we’ll take you to…”, promising wholeheartedly to one day head off with them to some far off local. And we meant it when we said it, but for years it was just words. Until it wasn’t.
Doing anything with kids adds an additional layer of complexity, so when we decided that they (and we) were ready for a trip overseas it was not done so lightly or impulsively. I wanted them to fully experience everything traveling to an unfamiliar country has to offer; I wanted them to see sites that would inspire them, transform them, make them into broad-minded, open-eyed, free-thinking little people, but… I wanted to do so with as little stress as possible. While we never let the fact that we don’t speak Spanish, Italian, French or Dutch stop us from enjoying any of our past trips or dictate our destination, that was then and this is now. The idea of having to juggle kids while attempting to do a respectable job at translating seemed too daunting of a proposition. Nope, if we were going to make this trip happen it would have to be to an English speaking country. And honestly, once I made that decision it actually simplified matters. English speaking, in Europe with tons of awe inspiring cultural sights to see… London seemed to totally fit the bill.
I had been to London once before but it was on a whirl-wind trip with my mother years ago. We saw some sights, drank some tasty cocktails, ate some lovely dinners and came home. This trip however would require a bit more advanced planning. I knew I wanted to stay at a hotel that would give us enough space to get away from each other after a long and tiring day of sightseeing. We decided to stay was a residence hotel on the Thames, adjacent the the London Tower called The Cheval Three Quays. We booked a two bedroom, two bath, full kitchen and living room apartment with a washer and dryer, maid service and a concierge bar none. It was the perfect quiet oasis after a day out and about in the city. Now to focus on the sites we most wanted to see. Our list was long and believe it or not we saw almost everything on it, but what we loved beyond belief and suggest everyone visit was:
The London Science Museum (an AMAZING combination of design museum/ hands on science museum/Smithsonian museum with a fantastic restaurant to boot.) Right next door is the Natural History Museum, home to massive collections of botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. Their dinosaur and fossil exhibits are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Another must if you have a little person interested in experiencing a traditional British tea is the “Mad Hatters Tea” at the Sanderson Hotel. It was a fabulous “just the girls” afternoon for my daughter and I. Every detail of the meal was well thought out and delicious. From the jewelry box full of sugar cubes to the tiny bottles of “Drink Me” potion, the handmade chocolate teacups full of light as air mango mouse to the perfectly replicated miniature queen of hearts cards made out of white chocolate. And the tea sandwiches, scones and mini quiche were all perfectly perfect. Another not to be missed destination is Borough Market, a permanent (partially indoor/partially out green market) that will make any foodies eyes roll. To say the place is amazing wouldn’t even begin do it justice. Since we were in the home of Hogwarts we booked tickets for the Harry Potter Studio Tour and got to see up close the actual sets, props and costumes from the eight movies. Even from a non-Potter aficionado’s point of view it was pretty incredible tour. (A word of advice; book these tickets months early. Entrance is timed, a limited number of visitors are allowed in and they sell out fast.) We went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in The West End and honestly, it was one of the best musicals I’ve ever seen. Who cares if you have Broadway right around the corner, seeing a show in The West End is a vastly different experience than one in NYC and absolutely worth the expense. We took a ferry out to Greenwich to see where time keeping as we know it began. The village was lovely with lots of shops and restaurants lining quaint winding streets, and Greenwich park is beautiful with a fantastic playground. Here’s a tip: While the hike up to the observatory will reward you with fabulous views of the city, you can actually see (and straddle) the famous Meridian Line just outside the entrance to the park. The National Maritime Museum, with the Cutty Sark at permanent anchor nearby is also a must see for anyone interested in nautical history. Another thing you must do; walk over the Tower Bridge at least twice, once in the daylight and once at night. (I’ve live in the NYC area for more than 25 years and I’ve never walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, yet we walked back and forth over the Tower Bridge at least a dozen times over the course of the week.) And speaking of walking, we walked nearly everywhere and saw sites we would have missed taking the tube. One day we wandered around our hotel neighborhood just to see what was close by and discovered not only the remains of a former Roman Wall dating from 200 A.D. but also All Hallows by The Tower; the oldest church in London. The building, with its scorched stone walls and puddles of melted lead, barely survived WWII bombings and has the scars to prove it. It also had super cool catacombs below with tons of historic artifacts. My son is a budding WWII history buff so he and my husband spent one afternoon touring the HMS Belfast and the Imperial War Museum. They both loved and were moved by the exhibits as well as the stories of heroism and courage. I could go on more about where we went and what we did, but instead I’ll a quick rundown of some of the fantastic meals we ate:
We had some amazing Indian food and sushi, crazy delicious fish and chips and a steak and ale pie to make your eyes roll. The kids discovered that malted vinegar really is the perfect condiment for fries, they were introduced to foie gras and LOVED IT (I have the giant dinner bill to prove it) and they were seriously delighted by the fact that Kinder Surprise Eggs were available everywhere. But the one meal we were all the most bowled over by, the one meal that we actually asked the server to ask the kitchen what their secret was, the one meal that my son declared in need of replicating at home was actually the simplest; Beef Burgers with Caramelized Onions and Blue Cheese. Sounds delicious right it? It was the onions that made it. Not only were they caramelized, they were caramelized with balsamic vinegar and brown sugar and they were outrageous.
So now were home… and while I still haven’t found the time to download or print all of our pictures, or put our tickets and receipts in my memory shadowbox, I have found the time to try and replicate those onions. Mine were nearly as good as in London, and if I closed my eyes and really focussed I could almost hear Big Ben.
God Save The Queen.
Balsamic-Brown Sugar Caramelized Onions
These are a delicious addition to just about anything..
2 large sweet onions, halved and sliced thin
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- Heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Add the onions and salt, give a stir to coat with oil and allow to cook over a low flame until they just begin to color, stirring frequently.
- Add the brown sugar and stir to combine. Add the balsamic vinegar and let cook, stirring frequently, for about 40-45 minutes, or until the onions have cooked down and the liquid has turned into a thick syrup.