A 3, 2, 1…Go London!
… with a twist!
The new James Bond movie, Spectre, had hit the big screen with rave reviews and renewed interest in spies, mystery and intrigue.
What better theme to choose for a weekend in London at the moment than a James Bond theme?
(Or Spy kids theme for my kids , who have yet to see a Bond film.) 3 young kids, 2 short days, 1 big city… for a spy extravaganza.
The Budding Bonds package of St Ermin’s hotel gave the perfect impetus for our spy weekend.
A 6 am wake up call on a Saturday morning and with everyone bundled into the car even before school run time on a weekday seems slightly insane…but when a mission calls, there is no hanging around, is there?
Mission#1: The Houses of Parliament
Our first stop was the Houses of Parliament, the root of all intrigue: politics.
We’d booked a 9:20am audio tour.
Due to the heightened security in London we went through airport style security to get in.
In the Westminster Hall we picked up our audio guides. Angelina, Hugo and I opted for the family tour and Antoine, my husband, for the adult tour. Max refused to wear a headset. (That’s what being 3 years old is about, I guess).
Standing in the places where important speeches were made, inspirational people lay while a nation mourned them, world changing decisions were and are still made. It is mind-blowing if you think of it.
I adored the intricate detail of this building! Are the dragon and the lion mocking us?
The tour took us just over an hour.
Both the kids and I found the family audio tour very engaging. There were different characters flicking back and forth in time, regaling stories and anecdotes. The guides as pointed out the important parts around each room.
Our tour told us facts like where the word Parliament comes from:
Did you know it was derived from the french word for talk, parler?
The chandelier in the central hall weights 3 tonne… just like a hippo! It’s these sort of descriptions that help kids remember the details.
My best tester is Hugo. He’s a fidget. If something like this can keep his attention then it’s pretty good. This audio guide faired well.
Mission #2: The “high speed car chase”…not
London Cabs: Image courtesy of TfL
From the Parliament we hailed a black cab and made a mad dash to the Tower of London. (Not such a dash, but madly frustrating slow progress, due to the Lord Mayor’s parade, which we hadn’t counted on.)
Our cabby was actually brilliant: There was certainly something bondesque about our taxi weaving through back roads to skip traffic, jumping over speed ramps a bit faster than would be advised. It felt a bit like a car chase, it was was a race against time: We had a rendezvous to make!
As we got to the Tower of London, we ran to the pier dodging selfie stick waving tourists to make our boat. We got there just as they were revving up the engines and the sailors starting to cast off.
Mission #3: The high speed boat ride along the Thames
Well, I envisaged a high speed water chase as the perfect next task for budding agents. City cruises does one of these. However, their age limit is 9 year olds and above, which excludes our little Bonds.
…So instead, I had booked us on to something exactly the opposite: a lovely, chilled meal on the Thames. More the schmoozing Bond than the action 007
On board our City Cruise boat, we caught our breath and were shown to our tables. Some drinks later, we eased into enjoying the sights of London from the River Thames. The weather was rather miserable and it felt really good to be inside, well-sheltered.
By the time the boat made its way back to where we started, the Houses of Parliament we were enjoying a lovely chicken, with a mushroom sauce, vegetables and potato gratin, Hugo, as I forgot to mention dairy-free request on booking, had his chicken plain and just with an extra helping of vegetables.
The main was followed by a luscious chocolate cheesecake (and an improvised and much-appreciated fruit salad for Hugo), then coffees and teas, juices for the kids.
In this time we meandered up the Thames almost as far as Battersea and then down, past our initial starting point, to Canary Wharf before we returned to the Tower of London.
Towards the end The Madventurer braved going upstairs into the rain and wind with the kids. There were pretty good panoramic views from inside already, but I’m told I missed out even better views from the open top deck.
We disembarked at Tower Pier and decided to put aside our plans for discovering more of London. (The weather was not being kind) Instead, we made our way to our hotel, St Ermin’s hotel to embark on the next leg of our spy mission.
Mission #4: Expect the unexpected: stopping the Tube
We took the underground.
You know that thing when something happens and you know what’s happening and you see it as if in slow motion? That!
Well, this wasn’t a biggie, besides Max almost being left on the Circle line train, which would’ve been a biggie.
Instead, as I stepped off the train, dragging Max behind, my ring sling fell from my handbag and slowly drifted down between the platform and the train. The train left and we peered down. There it was, lonely, beside the track.
We asked to borrow the walking stick of an old lady standing just besides us. She reluctantly lent it to us. The brave husband tried to hook the sling on, but we heard the next train coming and had to abandon the effort.
It was time to summon enforcement, i.e. the station manager. He assessed the situation, called Tube HQ, took out his big red light, stopped a train, just before it reached the sling, used a picker to retrieve it, then lit a big white light to let the train come into the station properly and allow passengers on and off. All that for a sling! (Worth it though, because it was much needed the following day.)
Please don’t copy this agenda item if you are following in our footsteps! Improvise to create your own unexpected.
Mission #5: The top secret briefing at St Ermin’s hotel
On to St Ermin’s hotel next: This hotel has a long history intertwined with intrigue and espionage. It is as beautiful, as it is fascinating.
At the door, we asked Pat, the doorman, whether we were in the right place for a special spy mission. He took the cue and in a hushed voice replied:
“Yes! They are in search new operatives, just ask reception”.
(He then did double check whether we were indeed staying at the hotel, which we were.) 😀
After our check-in to the hotel the kids got their briefing packs: a sheet of tasks to complete and special spy booklet with codes and puzzles.
Angelina and Hugo set off on their mission straight away, scouring the lobby and the library for the answers to the questions. The Madventurer and I had a moment of a breather. Max was tired at this point, but Angelina and Hugo were keen to get on. We split up: Max and I went to chill in our room, The Madventurer took Angelina and Hugo on a short walk back to Parliament Square. They had a couple of questions they needed to find the answers for.
This post first appeared on Family Mad ventures