Tag Archive for: adventure

Free Fun in London, Without the Queue

Baby's-eye view of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

Baby’s-eye view of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

Sure, we Villanos can appreciate the typical tourist stuff. But one of our favorite strategies when visiting a big city is to find the biggest crowds and head in the opposite direction.

This was our plan earlier in the week after arriving for four months in London.

Instead of spending hours upon hours in queues for attractions such as the London Eye, Buckingham Palace and the like (stuff I’m sure we’ll see at some point during our stay; preferably once the summer ends), we laced up our trainers and wandered east from the Four Seasons London at Canary Wharf onto the Isle of Dogs—and beyond.

Our first stop: Mudchute Park and Farm, a 32-acre plot of countryside, smack in the middle of East London. The place also happens to be one of the biggest city farms in Europe. And it’s free.

We knew we were someplace special immediately; as we rounded the corner of a back entrance trail, L spotted a horse grazing at the far end. Later, after feeding ourselves at the modest café (which serves surprisingly delicious food made mostly with produce grown on-site), we fed bunnies and chickens.

Then came the bigger animals. Goats. Llamas. Donkeys. And sheep.

Coming from a rural part of Sonoma County, California, these critters were nothing new for our girls. But seeing them against the backdrop of glimmering skyscrapers—now that was novel. For all of us.

As if the Mudchute experience wasn’t mind-bending enough, we left the farm and headed straight Greenwich, on the south side of the Thames. No, we didn’t take one of the many water busses that service the waterway. Instead, we walked. Under the river. In a 111-year-old tunnel.

That tunnel, formally dubbed the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, was built in 1902 to allow workers living on the south side of the river to get to work on the Isle of Dogs. Today, save for the Tube, it’s one of the easiest ways to get to Greenwich—home of the Royal Observatory, London’s only planetarium and, yep, the Prime Meridian (if you’re a geography geek like I am, this last one is a REALLY BIG DEAL).

Oh, the tunnel also is totally free.

I’m not sure what our girls enjoyed more: Listening to their own echoes as we walked the 1,215 feet across, or playing (and drenching themselves) in the shallow fountain on the Greenwich side. Either way, the traverse was a big hit, and a fantastic way to end a day of alternative sightseeing in our new home.

What are some of the most off-beat attractions you’ve encountered with the kids on recent trips?

What Does ‘Family-Friendly’ Really Mean?

Daddy and daughters, enjoying the view.

Daddy and daughters, enjoying the view.

One could make the argument that the overall experience of family travel is dramatically different from the sum takeaways of, say, romantic or adventure getaways designed exclusively for grown-ups.

Still, just because you travel with kids doesn’t mean every vacation activity must revolve around them.

After four years of traveling extensively with at least one child (and two years traveling with two of them), Powerwoman and I have become firm believers that every family trip should include at least two or three activities and outings that we would do even if we didn’t have kids in tow. Sometimes, we might hit up a happening hotspot. Other times, we might check out a historic church or archaeological site (my wife is an archaeologist).

Saturday, here on Oahu, we dragged the kids on a 2-mile round-trip hike along the paved Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail.

The girls did fine for the first half-mile or so. Then the heat got to L. Upon her request, I carried her for about a quarter-mile. From there, we put her in the stroller and I carried R. This meant that one of us was carrying a child for the duration of the hike.

For some, the additional burden of schlepping 25-45 extra pounds might have detracted from the overall experience.

But for us, having the kids with us while we took in sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and the windward side of Oahu made the hike even more epic. We watched waves. We spotted little red-headed birds. We marveled at turquoise waters. At one point, we even spied Molokai and Maui in the distance (this was particularly exciting for L, who is fascinated by Hawaiian geography).

Sure, by the time we got back to the trailhead, the girls were ready for a big lunch and long naps. And, yes, they might have been a bit more tired than they would have been otherwise. But considering L was still raving about the views at dinner, I’d say the experience made quite an impression.

These impressions, this sense of wonder, is the main reason Powerwoman and I travel with our kids. We know they can get these experiences doing typical family stuff; we also know they can get them doing certain grown-up stuff. Working to achieve a balance between these two approaches makes vacations more memorable for all of us.