Exploring Bath

Before Christmas, we decided to take a day trip to Bath- a quick 1.5 hour train ride west from London.  Once we arrived, we started from the train station and walked almost directly to the Roman Bath Museum in the heart of the mostly pedestrian city.  Across from the museum is the famous Bath Abbey, where a round of Christmas performances were happening all day long and the opera singer we heard on our way into the museum was incredible.  

The waters below were steaming hot, despite the chilly temperatures.  These have been used as baths since AD 60 and later in the 17th century, people would come from far and wide to "take the waters" (believed to have curative properties).  I definitely remember seeing visits to Bath on one of my favorite shows, Downton Abbey. :) 

The natural hot spring empties here in to the pool

The natural hot spring empties here in to the pool

Walking around outside town- this is the Pulteney Bridge over the river Avon.  The scene where Javert jumps off the bridge in Les Miserables was filmed right here.  There are definite similarities to the architecture in Bath and France, where the original Les Mis story was based.  

View of Pulteney from the other side- you can see the familiar weir below that Javert fell into.  Shops span both sides of the bridge and its totally charming and awesome.  Bath had a small-town and ancient feel while being quite a big city with most of the same stores you would find in central London.  We really loved it.

The famous Royal Crescent that you see in so many period movies.  Jane Austen lived in Bath in the 19th century and wrote some novels based on her relationships and time spent here.  The whole city has a very Jane Austen feel to it- like you've literally stepped in to one of her novels (take the modern cars away and you're totally there!)

See what I mean?? :)

See what I mean?? :)

After the Royal Crescent, we walked to the Royal Victoria Park so we could go ice-skating...

Because the ice-skating was sold-out for a few more hours, we headed back to the shops and grabbed a late lunch/early dinner at one of our favorite family restaurants, Nando's!

I love ice-skating and it was really fun (and extremely exhausting!) to show my kids how to do it.  Brian has had a bad ankle so he watched while Kate and I helped our 3 novices: Taylor, Lauren and Tessa learn how to handle the ice.  We got the penguins for Tessa and Lauren, but Tessa soon learned that all she needed to do was stand backwards on its feet and be pushed around...she had a fantastic time! ;) 

Lauren worked really hard and eventually got the hang of it, which was really fun for me to see.  I love it when my kids grasp new things and she was on her own before too long.  Ever since Taylor broke her arm when she fell off a horse a year ago, she's been terrified of anything with the slight possibility of the same thing happening.  She used Lauren's penguin most of the time and never really got the idea, but I'm still pretty sure she had a great time anyway.  

Bath was so beautifully decorated for Christmas...we loved wandering the lighted streets and admiring this new town.  I can totally see why this is such a popular place.

Tower Bridge & The London Temple


A few weeks ago, we spent some time seeing some of the great sights of our city.  Brian hadn't seen Tower Bridge and the Tower of London yet, so we headed south to check it out together (minus Kate, who was at home not feeling well).  The Tower Bridge is so fun to walk across for three reasons- its HUGE, the colors are spectacular, and you can see so much of the city from its perch along the Thames.  This time, we ventured to the very top, where they have a walkway 140 feet above the Thames.  Its a little (or maybe a lot) dizzying to stand over the clear panels and peer down to all of the busy traffic below.  But, the views are fantastic.

We crossed the bridge and walked to the Tower of London on the north bank of the River Thames.  Having been built in the 11th century, its part in English history cannot be overstated.  This huge stone structure is most famous for its prison where many famous beheadings took place (Anne Boleyn, anyone??).  However, our favorite part was exploring the crown jewels.  



Several of the big, modern buildings in London have the best and most interesting names.  This one is nicknamed "The Walkie Talkie" because of its shape


The colors of the Tower Bridge (especially on a sunny day!) are so perfect

The colors of the Tower Bridge (especially on a sunny day!) are so perfect

I spy St. Paul's Cathedral

I spy St. Paul's Cathedral

At the Tower of London with a Beefeater

At the Tower of London with a Beefeater

Mastering the tube

Lemurs at the London Zoo

Lemurs at the London Zoo

Our pretty street ...

Our pretty street ...


This same weekend, Brian got away with half of our girls to head to the zoo.  An easy 10 minute walk from our house and you're there.  We love this zoo because the exhibits are much more open than the ones we are used to in the States.  You really can get up close and personal with many of the animals, which is so fun for the kids.

London is really starting to feel like home now.  We love our flat, our ward is great, and the kids are having the best experiences at school.  Life is very busy and we aren't able to get out and do as much stuff as we did when we first arrived here.  Its just different now.  But, we look back on those first few weeks as total bliss and feel so grateful for the things we were able to do in such a short amount of time.  When we first got here, pretty much everything was new to us- our home, friends, ward, food, and the energy/sounds all around us.  Its funny, the other day, I was sitting on the bus and I heard a typical city noise (a siren I think) that used to make me get all giddy when we first moved, but I don't really hear the city sounds any more.  It made me a little bit sad because I think London has its own street orchestra, if you will. The sounds and energy are always surrounding us.  It made me want to perk up and make sure I keep soaking all of this up because everything about it, even the crazy sounds, are so special.


The London Temple

The London Temple


Our ward had a temple day one weekend.  We took a taxi, to the train, then a mini-bus to the London temple (which isn't technically in London).  The property it sits on is so beautiful and perfectly maintained to true English standards, with gorgeous flowers, lots of lush green grass, a stream, pond and some great trees to climb on.  Our group of adults split into two, so half of the parents could watch all of the kids for the first session and then you trade for the second session so everyone who wanted a chance to attend got it.  The kids loved running around with their friends for a few hours, and the adults got a much-needed spiritual boost!  Perfect.  We loved being at the temple and the perspective it gives you- there really is no place on earth quite like it. And, I love that our kids could spend so much time in such a special place.  We are so grateful that we live close and its pretty easy to get to. 

Just Outside of Town

Brian left for the US of A this week for work and in his absence, I decided that I needed to plan some "out-of-town" adventures for the 5 of us.  



Our first stop was Windsor Castle- the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world!  We loved, loved, loved it!  The town of Windsor itself was so charming that we could have spent the day exploring and taking it in. After getting some tickets and our audio guides, we walked through the Norman gates of the castle, where a live tour was just beginning.  We were introduced to the Upper, Lower, and Middle Wards as well as the famous Round Tower.  Then, we went inside to Queen Mary's Dollhouse.  This is the largest and most famous dollhouse in the world.  Built with tiny real books, and actual running water and working elevators as well as real gold tiny place settings.  In a word, everything in the dollhouse is tiny, but very real.  Incredible.  From there, we went to the State Apartments, where pictures are forbidden.  The scope, majesty and grandeur of these rooms in beyond anything I've ever seen.  It really felt like a working, lived-in castle, but larger and more grand than any of the castles we have previously seen.  We slowly walked through the rooms, listening to our audio guides and trying to see it all.  Its definitely a place that you could walk through several times before you tire of it.



Outside of the castle in the lower ward, is St. George's Chapel , where you can visit the burial sites of many of England's kings and queens such as Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Edward IV, Henry VI, Edward VII and Alexandra, and many more.  After leaving the castle grounds, we walked toward Eton College, a prestigious private school that has educated 19 of Britain's prime ministers.  The town of Eton was so picturesque...I could not stop taking pictures of it and wished Brian was here so the pictures could be decent.  ;)



We stayed close to home the next day, visiting the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden- which may have been a kid favorite.  They could climb on old buses and trams and even drove a simulated tube and played in kid-sized taxis.  I loved reading the history of transportation in London and how it literally shaped the area in and out of the city- prompting an urban sprawl as tubes became more popular and efficient.  Also, the Thames!  Boats used to be the main mode of transportation and without this river, London might not have been settled at all.



We had to walk through the shops at Covent Garden after the museum and, as usual, there was some sort of entertaining show that the kids insisted on watching.  City life! Then, we grabbed some delicious Ben's Cookies, sat on the curb and blissfully devoured the warm cookies before walking over to Trafalgar Square to check out the lions.  There was a string quartet playing in the square and it was so beautiful...we picked up their CD after listening for a while because I love the gorgeous sound of violins! Then, on to the main attraction.  The kids climbed on top of the lions and hung out for a bit before heading back home for the day on the bus.  

Ready for another short trip, we headed to Hampton Court Palace on Thursday.  Right on the River Thames, this huge palace conducts living tours- people dressed in period outfits and playing the parts of actual monarchs and their courtiers that lived in the palace long ago.    We learned about Henry VIII and explored his huge kitchens, saw how meals were prepared and where they were eaten.  Then, we saw the Tudor side of Hampton where King William and his wife, Mary, lived as well as their gorgeous Fountain Court and privy gardens.  Outside of the castle, is the famous Hampton Court Maze commissioned by William III and includes 1/3 of an acre of hedges that lead to a center (or the goal to be reached).  I told the kids that the first one to reach the center is the winner and they ran free.  Kate and Lauren stuck together and found it, Taylor got lost so Tessa and I eventually caught up to her, and we found the center altogether after getting lost a couple more times, which is the point, right?! Either way, it was a lot of fun and a definite first!  From there we walked for a bit along the Thames and then over to the carriages placed on the front lawn for kids (and adults!) to climb into and play on.  This is where I fell asleep in the sunshine on the grass.  It was lovely.  

Brian came home the next day with half of a suitcase full of American goods that I had requested. Our boat shipment (which includes most of our stuff from America) was supposed to arrive on July 5, but there was a problem with the shipment in the US and it was delayed three weeks. Because we still don't have any of it, we are running out of things that we need and have had trouble finding in the UK (Mucinex!).  Luckily, Brian heads back to the States about once/month and can stock up.  The kids thought they had died and gone to heaven when he pulled out Mambas and their favorite granola bars as well as some new wet brushes.  And, I got my Mucinex, because we have all been fighting a nasty cold for what seems like forever! 

We spent time walking through our favorite parts of Regents Park on Saturday and then headed over to Holland Park, where there was a ward get-together to say goodbye to a great family that is moving to Colorado this week.   


Around Town


The weekend after our Paris trip, we decided to stick around town and "take it easy".  So, we've heard great things about the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in Richmond.  We arrived just a couple of hours before closing, not nearly enough time to take in all 75 acres + Kew Palace.  But, we sure tried!  We explored the palace where George III and his Queen Charlotte spent much of their time, and also where Charlotte passed away (you can see the very chair she was sitting in at the time of her death). Their palace garden was amazing...there really is nothing like a true English garden.  We walked the Kew Garden grounds-through the Palm House, King William's Temple, the amazing Waterlily house, and topped it off with nutella crepes (Paris has us hooked!) and a walk on top of the trees at the Xstrata Treetop Walkway.



London is full of amazing museums and the best part is that the majority of them are free!  As a mom of four, it takes the pressure off of making sure you see everything the first time and dragging kids through hours of exhibits after they lose interest because you want to get your money's worth. But the very best part is, that you have access to amazing things and incredible learning opportunities for your kids at your fingertips.

Take the British Museum, for example.  On a Monday afternoon, its a short tube ride and all of the sudden you're standing in front of the Rosetta Stone at one of the most amazing museums in the world.  Slight right turn and you're looking at Egyptian statues that are over 3,000 years old! History is so amazing...its mind-boggling to imagine that people have been living and working on this earth for that long and to imagine what their lives must have been like. Down the hall and you can see actual pieces from the Roman Pantheon.  We weren't able to stay long because you know, kids.  But, Kate and I have big plans to return and spend hours scouring the different exhibits.  

On Tuesday, I wanted to get to the TKTS kiosk at Leicester Square to get a deal for a Wednesday West End matinee for the 5 of us.  I still haven't figured out the best way to do this when you have more than two people you're looking for, so I walked away empty-handed.  I totally get why this area is such a tourist hot-spot though.  So much energy in Piccadilly Circus and I'm in love with the gorgeous white stone buildings that wave through Regent Street, wrap around Piccadilly and through toTrafalgar.  



After a quick stop at Pret for the kids' favorite snack of mini-baguettes with butter and an almond croissant for mom, we bussed it to the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park for the Serpentine Pavilion exhibit.  The kids played hide-n-seek through the colorful, twisting tunnels for a while and then we walked through Kensington Gardens to the Peter Pan statue.  Across from the statue, is The Long Water (looks like a small river) where there were swans and other ducks swimming around.  The girls found a cute duck that had just had little duckling babies and mom was feeding them in the cutest way possible.  Taylor, my animal lover, said it was the best day of her life.  They were so cute.



The next day our digital piano arrived...and for a full day the kids looooved that they could play the piano.  ;) It was fantastic.  I also found a local gym that I could join so I could hopefully get back to teaching at some point.  But in the meantime, I'll settle for earning some endorphins without the pressure of learning choreography.  I took the kids down the road to Kilburn Grange Park so they could run around and be kids. Finally, that night, I met a couple of women from our Relief Society for dinner at a delicious Persian restaurant called Alounak. I love talking to people who have lived here for a while and can give me great tips and advice because I could really use all of it.  The women in my ward, and the people in London as well, have been so kind and welcoming and extremely helpful- its been so nice.  

On Thursday, it was going to be a hot (as in 85 degrees!) London day, so a group of moms from church decided to meet at the Serpentine Lido so the kids could play in the water.  Because the lido was closed, we settled for the nearby Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, which is like a lazy river about 6 inches deep.  The kids splashed and played while the moms sat and talked, which is what we each do best! ;) 

When the weekends roll around and Brian is around, we try to plan something special to do altogether.  So, this weekend, we decided to head to Dover Castle and their famous white cliffs, about a 2 1/2 hour train ride to the south-eastern English coastline.  Dover Castle (the "Key to England") is a 12th century medieval fortress that not only played a huge part as a defensive stronghold in many wars, but it is also the largest castle in England.  We walked through the secret wartime tunnels and explored the old church, Roman lighthouse, and the Great Tower filled with very colorful furniture and ornaments (colorful paint was more expensive than gold during the reign of Henry II so colorful furniture was a sign of extreme wealth and they had ALOT of very colorful pieces).  We then tried to hike to the white cliffs and realized, with a stroller in tow, this would be impossible because there is no path off of the main road leading to the cliffs, making the walk very dangerous...so bummed.  We tried to hire a taxi to take us, with no luck so, disappointed, we had to head home for the night.  We did catch some glimpses on the train ride back, but we hope to return and get some good photos and memories of the gorgeous sheer white cliffs.



On Sunday, we had our first visitors from Texas! The McKnights lived by us and were in our ward in McKinney, so it was so fun to see them.  They were in town for work and were so nice to come over that night and go on a gorgeous walk through Regents Park with us.  We love visitors!



I've realized that getting out of the house every day is often hard with four kids, but when I am out with my kids, I feel so full of gratitude for this amazing city that we get to live in- every corner and street has something different and interesting to see.  Sometimes, I think I may burst with gratitude for this opportunity.  This summer has been so special already for our family, we've learned, been pushed to grow, and seen some incredible things that we will never forget.  


Portobello Road and Stuff


Oh, Portobello Road...filled with people and shops and everything in between.  If its available to buy, you can find it somewhere on The Road.  We walked the shops, saw street performers and endless Nutella crepes as well as every kind of London souvenir.  We even ventured into an antique map store that had 300 year old maps for sale (slightly out of our price range).  We ate a delicious lunch of bruschetta, hot dogs, donuts, and crepes...not necessarily all at once or in that order.  ;)  Delicious!  

On Fridays Elle had the day off of work, so one Friday we were true tourists for the day...we walked on Queen's walk along the Thames River, across the incredible Tower Bridge, and through the Tower of London.  I can't begin to tell you how nice it was to have Elle there- not only is she gorgeous, talented, super fun and great company, she is so helpful and was the best pair of extra hands a mom could ask for.  Checked some major stuff off of the London tourist to-do's today, but even before we did that...

Have you been to the oldest outdoor market in Europe?  Borough Market is brimming with every kind of fancy food your mind can imagine.  Zebra, alligator, ostrich, giraffe meat anyone?  Every kind of cheese ever invented, all kinds of fresh fruit, chocolate in all of its delicious forms, fresh smoothies and breads of all varieties (did someone mention donuts, because they have custard-filled confections from your dreams).  Yes, its a feast for the eyes and stomach.  We've been there 3 times, each time discovering something new that we have to try.  It's a London must!



We've also spent a couple of perfect FHE's in the park across from our flat.  The sun doesn't set until about 10 PM and rises before 5 each morning, so the daylight hours are most definitely not in short supply.  For FHE,  we played soccer and then next week had Kate and Taylor each teach a lesson .  Surrounded by a wonderful London neighborhood, the setting sun, a perfectly overgrown cemetery, flanked on all sides by trees, and the green grass...life is so good.


This Italian restaurant/cafe/shop/bakery is at the bottom of our apartment building.  We spent many nights here using their free wi-fi before we had our own internet.  Already nostalgic about this charming place on the corner of our block.

A Weekend in the Cotswolds


Our very first trip as a family was north to the Cotswolds and Oxford.  We stayed in Oxford, at the Macdonald Randolph Hotel, directly across from the Oxford campus.  The weather this weekend was very English...overcast, cold and rainy. But, it made the Cotswolds more old and magical because it looked dewy from every point and added to the incredible charm.  

We rented a car and drove all over the Cotswolds (even getting completely lost, per the general recommendation) until we settled on exploring the Upper and Lower Slaughters...as you can see, it was amazingly gorgeous and totally picturesque.  We walked up and down hills, through mushy green fields, and saw sights that are hard to capture because they are just too perfect and too beautiful.  The greenery and flowers were stunning-- it seemed as if these homes, gardens, hotels and churches had been here forever.  



We drove on to Chipping Camden, a town that dates back to Roman times and has some buildings to prove it! We walked down the totally charming high street and explored back roads and courtyards, taking the beauty in as much as possible, every turn a new sight to see.  I believe we might have witnessed more varieties of flowers in this one place than we have in our entire lives! 



This trip would have been close to impossible without Elle...she pushed strollers, cheered on the kids, and lugged baggage all over London to make a train that we were sure we were going to miss.  My girls look up to her so much.



Of course we found an old cemetery by an equally old church and had to explore the headstones, trying to find the oldest one in the lot.  There is something so fascinating about reading headstones and trying to imagine the lives these people might have led.  But, seriously, doesn't this graveyard look magical?  That old building in the background is what is left of an old Roman fortress (read: VERY old!). Next stop: Oxford!  



There are actually 33 colleges in Oxford, but there's really only one you've heard about.  We went on a walking C.S. Lewis tour of the town- we saw where he spent his first night, where he lived, where he dined and pondered with JRR Tolkien, and where he studied and converted to Christianity.  It is an amazing and inspiring story!

From the words of CS Lewis during his time at Magdalen College:

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.”

Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with tremendous difference that it really happened…. Does this amount to a belief in Christianity? At any rate I am now certain (a) that this Christian story is to be approached, in a sense, as I approach the other myths; (b) that it is the most important and full of meaning. I am also nearly sure that it happened….
— C.S. Lewis

Blackwell's is a famously massive and very old (1879) bookshop.  

Walking the streets of Oxford makes one feel smarter.

My very captive audience ;)


Views from the top of the University Church in Oxford provided stunning 360 degree views of the city.  Houses of every color prompted a new nightly question from Tessa, "which house was your favorite color today?"

First Days In London


Our first few days in London were a mix of excitement, nervousness, jet-lag, and pure bliss.  I had a mental checklist of things I wanted to get done before the first weekend was over and quickly realized that things move at a much slower pace in the UK.  Brian and I also wanted to take advantage of a few days of no work and really trying to soak in the city...we were so happy to finally be here with our kids in this busy world that is so very different from the only place they've lived.

We met with a relocation consultant, Nina, that showed us around our new town on Friday afternoon.  The high street (or main street, as we would call it in America) is so charming.  The red-brick buildings with interesting and varied designs immediately drew me in. Cute boutique shops, outdoor cafes, pharmacies, and bakeries that I'd never heard of lined the streets that were quietly bustling with residents.  Another gorgeous day welcomed us as we walked around and oriented ourselves.  As the English say, it was lovely.  Very, very lovely.  



On Saturday we were able to move into our flat, met our friendly porter, bought some groceries and ate lunch at a cafe on the high street.  On Sunday, Brian and Tessa weren't feeling well, so they stayed home to rest while the rest of us braved this new system of transportation in order to make it to church on time for its 9 AM start.  We made it by 9:40, but we lucked out because it ended up being a special broadcast from Elder Holland that started at 10, so we were more than punctual after all.  

After church, and when Brian was feeling better, we got out to explore some more.  We walked to Buckingham Palace (wish I had recorded Taylor's reaction to it), which the kids loved.  Then, we kept on going until we saw Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, the Thames River and Big Ben.  We have been feeling so lucky to live in a place that offers so much to do and see and learn.  It just never gets boring!

We have decided that buses, although slower, are our favorite way to maneuver the city.  Every ride is like a tour if you look out of your windows!  If we are going to be on for a while, Tessa will run up to the top and get as close to the front as possible.  She loves the double-decker buses. But, she absolutely despises walking...which we do a lot of.  Her stroller is our new best friend.


Taylor in the park across the street (above) and the super old cemetery (below) at the same park


On Sunday night, we had our very first guest come to our new home...Elle!  We had been talking for a few weeks about this new visitor/sister, who quickly became a part of our family.  Elle made our first month in London so much better!  And, our girls absolutely adore her.  (Elle is a family friend that we met through her mom's amazing blog www.71toes.blogspot.com.  Check it out if you have the time!)

On Monday, we explored Kensington Gardens and Palace with Elle before she started her London internship with a local architectural firm.  The gardens were beautiful (but cold!) and we covered a lot of ground on our feet.  We loved seeing all of the beautiful dresses that different royalty have worn through the years, as well as seeing the inside of Kensington and learning more about the royal family.  Afterwards, we met Brian for a family dinner in Notting Hill at a favorite restaurant.  

I took Elle and the girls for a GNO at the Regents Park Open Air Theatre for "Peter Pan" and it was one of the coolest things we've done.  The theater is exactly what is says it is...open, and surrounded by trees in the middle of a massive public park.  The play was sooo good too- it was a completely new British take on the familiar story and it was so charming and patriotic.  I was enthralled with the costumes and creative sets as well as the totally believable puppetry. Its so nice to get out and spend time with my girls.  What a fun night!  


This was at a fair (or fayre, if you're English) that was on our street the first weekend we moved in.


The next couple of weeks have been busy sorting things like bank accounts, cell phone service, grocery delivery, and TV/internet.  We've also tried to get out and do things as much as possible.  The weather has been perfect most days, so its hard to justify sitting at home checking off a to-do list.  We got a membership to the London Zoo, which is a 10 minute walk from our house.  We have been 3 times and love it because you can get so close to all of the animals- they have a petting zoo with goats and sheep, which the girls love to ride on (no, its not allowed).  Tessa begs to take the tiny goats home with us each time we go.  She also loves to see the pigs, due to her recent obsession with Peppa Pig (good timing, right!?).   

We've gone to several different playgrounds too, most of which are in Regents Park- literally across the street from our block.  We also went to the Natural History Museum a couple of times, one time with some new friends from our ward who have been so nice and welcoming to our family.  They also have 4 kids  (3 girls!), so we instantly got along. We are so sad they are moving in a couple of weeks to Abu Dhabi.  

We met Daddy and Elle at Covent Garden one night for a dinner at a delicious Italian outdoor cafe right off the main square.  There are several street performers, and one came along that picked Lauren to be his helper.  His act was about 20 minutes long and she assisted him the entire time!  It was hilarious and totally awesome.  She was perfect- took her role very seriously and even "let loose" a little when he asked her to dance in front of the large audience that had gathered to watch.  It was definitely a highlight of our month here to watch her shine (and get so nervous) in front of hundreds of people.  As a reward, the performer gave her 5 pounds, which she wanted to spend immediately! On the way home, we walked through Trafalgar Square and caught a bus home through Regents Street, Oxford Street, and Piccadilly Circus- a true tour of some of the best parts of our city.  


Seriously one of the best memories of our move...such a fun experience for all of us.