Dear London: Thank you

AFTER my mom died, London was the first place I turned to for solace. I was 27 and newly married. Two months after the memorial service, my husband accompanied me on the trip from Chicago to a quiet and January-cold London.

People say nothing prepares you for death, even when you know it’s imminent. Waiting at my mother’s bedside through the final days of her living with stage four cancer were the longest hours of my life. I wasn’t thinking clearly, if at all, in those last moments with my mom. Though I felt a heavy pressure seeming to crush my chest, I was numb. My senses were dulled by the relentless effects of her illness and although our family wanted a better outcome, we were realists. We knew death would be her final resting place.

London was not an escape from grief. It wasn’t a distraction or a refuge. London was an acceptance of life — hers and mine. Having just witnessed a 56-year old beloved woman’s final breaths leave her body, I was shaken by the fragility of life. I was spooked but it only fueled my desire to devour the world and take all I could from it while time was on my side.

I felt embraced by London, consoled by its rich culture. Even in my mournful state, London brought out the best in me. I found inspiration in the city to live in the present — with intention. I felt challenged to wake up with purpose and greet each day with opportunity. I felt my senses coming alive, as well as passion for discovery and learning.

I cried upon seeing Canova’s Three Graces at the Hayward Gallery. Its precise anatomical beauty overwhelmed me. I couldn’t stop looking. I studied Matisse and his influence on Russian art at the Royal Academy, fascinated by his interests in eastern Europe. I attended plays at The Old Vic which had me crying one minute and laughing another. I allowed myself to be swept away by movement and story lines. I tasted the depths and layers of Indian spices that left my eyes watering and tongue panting for more flavors.

Perhaps most important, I visited the house where my mom lived as a teenager and diplomat’s daughter in Chester Square and imagined her strolling the neighborhood thinking about all the possibilities that lay ahead.

My mom and I never visited London together but whenever I return I play a running conversation in my head. The sound of her voice and her soft gestures are vivid in my mind.

“I loved living here,” she says. “I have the fondest memories of London.”

“Yes, mom,” I answer gently,” you always tell me.”

“I love the gardens and flowers. Walking through the open parks. It makes me so happy. My favorite times were roaming around with your Grandpa who appreciated the little things. London was good to us.”

“Yes, mom,” I say, “I know.”

London appealed to us in different ways. For my mom, it was the traditional and aristocratic London. She grew up with privilege, formalities, and decorum, where manners and appearance were expected and praised. She attended a private all-girls school in the ‘60s designed to prepare a girl to be a lady of society and find a rich, handsome husband.

I was always drawn to London’s modern sensibilities with its punk vibe and rebellious spirit. While my mom preferred high tea at Fortnum & Mason, I was content with samosas on Brick Lane, washed down by a cider at the local pub.

While our memories and desires of London differed, my mother and I possessed a shared passion for its diverse offerings. London was a city large enough to accept our diverse perspectives and cultural identities. In many ways, and in the days to come, London will always be that intersection of past and present between my mom, myself, and my now three-year old-daughter.

On my last visit to London we celebrated my daughter’s second birthday. We found ourselves on a spontaneous playdate with Prince George at Diana’s Memorial playground in Hyde Park. Nanny, Prince George, and Princess Charlotte were visiting the huge wooden pirate ship. My daughter and young George ran around on the ship and took turns on the slide. My daughter grabbed Prince George’s shoulders and directed him to wait while she moved around the quarter deck.

My mom met Princess Di back in the ‘80s at a diplomatic state dinner. Who knew that their two future grandchildren, whom they would never meet themselves, would somehow come together in a sandbox? That’s London. Our London.

10 must-do family adventures in England

ENGLAND is the perfect vacation destination for families. The country offers a wide range of activities for visitors young and old, from big city fun to quaint small town charm. To help plan your next visit, we’ve put together a list of the 10 must-do family adventures in England.

1. DreamWorks Tours: Shrek’s Adventure

These tours are in London, where kids can take a virtual trip to the Kingdom of Far Far Away with Donkey. Visitors will meet characters such as the Muffin Man, the Ugly Stepsister, and Sleeping Beauty while trying to escape from Rumpelstiltskin and witches. No visit would be complete without posing for pictures with Shrek. This is great for younger visitors.

2. Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens

Located in Burford, it’s the perfect spot to spend an afternoon with the kids. A mix between a zoo and a safari park, the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens houses over 260 different species of animals. The enclosures blend well with the natural environment and provide plenty of space for the animals to roam. You’ll find white rhinoceros, Chapman’s zebras, Lemurs, Parma wallabies, Humboldt penguins and more. You could easily spend a leisurely half day here at the park visiting the animal areas, watching the animals being fed, exploring the gardens and giving the kids time to run and play at the large playground.

3. Roman Baths


This ancient bathing and socializing complex is in the city of Bath. The venue does a great job of catering to children. with a free audio guide tour designed specifically for young visitors. Make sure to pick up one of the family activity trail, such as “Meet the Romans” from reception when you purchase tickets. The trail guides children through the museum and teaches them intriguing facts along the way. Kids can also complete a craft at the kids’ activity center and chat with costumed characters about life in Roman times.

4. Sudeley Castle

Located in Winchcombe, the castle was built in the 15th century and is the burial place of Queen Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of King Henry VIII. The castle itself is lovely and well maintained, but the highlight for kids is the massive play area on the castle grounds. Young travelers can climb through the fort, complete an obstacle course, and ride a zip line while parents take a break at one of the many picnic tables.

5. LEGOLAND

Located in Windsor, LEGOLAND will be a hit for younger kids. What child wouldn’t want to spend the day enjoying 55 LEGO rides, shows, and attractions? Kids will be excited to visit the Land of the Vikings, Kingdom of the Pharaohs, LEGO City and Adventure Land. The new LEGO Ninjago World will open in May 2017.

6. Leacock Abbey

Located in Wiltshire, visitors can see Harry Potter filming locations for scenes such as the Mirror of Erased and Professors Snape’s & Quirrell’s classrooms. A hands-on feature for kids is the junior detective program where they can solve the case of Bizarre Beasts. It’s an engaging way to keeps kids interested and begging to explore the Abbey and grounds. The trail will lead kids from the Inspector’s office, through the weeping willows, the creepy cloister, serpents’ thicket and more. Children get a sticker for solving the case.

7. Blue Reef Aquarium

Located in Newquay, kids will enjoy the 40 themed habitats. The aquarium is home to a giant octopus, Black Tip Reef Sharks, other species found on Cornish coasts — as well as a cool underwater tunnel.

8. Tower of London

The ancient tower is located in London. Your children can see the Crown Jewels, explore the fortress, and see what life was like in Medieval times. Pick up a free family trail guide to complete activities and quizzes while learning fun facts. A cool new feature for families is the digital missions app where kids can meet historical characters, complete challenges and win badges.

9. Natural History Museum

Located in London, even children will be impressed with the beauty of the building. If you’re short of time, be sure you start your visit at the Dinosaur gallery with its towering T-Rex and the skull of a Triceratops, as well as at the Earth Hall with its escalator ride through a giant metallic globe.

10. Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter

Harry Potter fans won’t want to miss this magical experience. Learn the behind the scenes secrets of the Harry Potter films. You’ll see Hagrid’s motorcycle, Hogwarts Great Hall, Platform 9 3/4 with the Hogwarts Express and get a chance to try Butterbeer.

The best way to explore England is by car. Yes, the public transportation system in England is excellent, but you’ll miss out on some of what makes the country so great — the off-the-eaten-path villages. These ten must-do family adventures in England will take you on an exciting tour, visiting cities both big and small while providing entertainment for the entire family.

Best airbnbs in London

London’s sprawling city can make finding a location for accommodation a challenge. The local touch when renting a house or apartment transforms the experience of a large city like London. Even if you are a foodie and have restaurant reservations lined up, these listings below offer more than a well equipped kitchen. Here’s our selection of some of the best Airbnb’s in London.

$747/night River Thames

Photo: Airbnb

For those who are looking for a centralized location and a view of the skyline next to the River Thames, this big apartment for $747 a night is worth it.

Photo: Airbnb

$68/night, Camden

Photo: Airbnb

Camden is a great neighborhood – some would say, London at it’s best – full of shops, bars and Camden Market and Primrose Hill. Considering the location and beautiful decor it’s a steal for only $68 a night.

Photo: Airbnb

$955/night, Greater London

Photo: Airbnb

The place is walking distance from the London Museum and School or Arts. The two-floor penthouse features original street art and sleeps up to 16 people.

Photo: Airbnb

$134/night, Knightsbridge

Photo: Airbnb

Looking at this listing, it seems almost too good to be true for the price. It’s not greatly exciting, but it’s clean, has a garden and is located in Knightsbridge, which is perfect for a first-timer to London.

Photo: Airbnb

$1,082/night, Cadogan Square, Knightsbridge

Photo: Airbnb

This gaff once cost over 8 million pounds. It’s all yours for just over $1000 a night. If you need luxury and glam, this will tick those boxes. It’s located in Cadogan Square, one of the more exclusive areas of Knightsbridge. The owner asks for background information about guests before booking. If you are not PLU — people like us — don’t bother inquiring.

Photo: Airbnb

$2,379/night, Piccadilly Circus

Photo: Airbnb

Don’t be too alarmed at the cost per night as this 7-bed, six-floor townhouse in Piccadilly Circus sleeps up to 30. It goes all out in the way of comfort with many jacuzzis and a steam room.

Photo: Airbnb

$436/night, Nottinghill

Photo: Airbnb

The 20-foot-high penthouse was designed and crafted with “love and wit” by Scandinavian designer Rowan. It’s right next to the canal facing Nottinghill, famous for carnival in August.

Photo: Airbnb

$1,387/night, Hyde Park

Photo: Airbnb

The place makes our list mainly for its location. The house has a balcony overlooking Hyde Park which is famous for its art and architecture exhibitions. Perfect place to enjoy a spot of afternoon tea.

Photo: Airbnb

$727/night, Chelsea

Photo: Airbnb

This place makes the cut because of the decor. The house has been designed in traditional British country house style. Located in Chelsea it’s tucked away in a very quiet part of the district. It makes it a super base for exploring the city without sacrificing a good night’s sleep.

Photo: Airbnb

$694/night, South Kensington

Photo: Airbnb

Just off Sloane Avenue, this three bedroom, renovated house would be perfect for those in London for a long weekend. Note, it’s in a relatively posh area, so remember to pack your Barbour jacket and wellington boots.

Photo: Airbnb

Train tripping through Europe: Pt 1

FOLLOW FILMMAKER Blaze Nowara as he traverses Europe, hitting up London, Paris, Berlin, and Krakow, and visiting the local Hotel Indigo properties (part of InterContinental Hotels Group). These hotels are individually designed with each city in mind, taking care to reflect their locale and offer an authentic experience. Cookie-cutter chain hotels they are not.

In episode 1, Blaze’s first stop is Hotel Indigo London Kensington, where he meets a fellow traveler, dines on wine and meat pies, and ambles through Holland Park. He then takes himself on a high-speed train to Paris, checks in, and hits the streets. Opting to avoid the usual tourist attractions, Blaze keeps himself open to serendipitous encounters and — surprise surprise — more wine!

 

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This video is proudly produced by Matador for the IHG Travel Blog.