Spring break in America is one week but here in my kids' school in Scotland, they're off for 18 whole days. In the middle of the school year! After getting over the initial culture shock, I realized the only way to survive the long interruption in the school year is to figure out an escape. Life can be a bore for them and a chore for you if you don't plan a spring break of sorts.
The perfect getaway for us was a cultural and gastronomic trip to London. I get to make history come alive for my 10-year-old with trips to the Tower of London, Greenwich Observatory and the British Museum, especially when you stay in convenient hotels right next to tube stops. It's a great solution to a hands-on educational lesson in the middle of the school year. VisitLondon.com has a slew of suggestions for living life like a Londoner. London is such a vibrant, cosmopolitan city that it's useful, if not essential, to have a source in the know to tell you what's going on since exhibitions are changing all the time. Traveling with kids takes some planning.
Close to the Thames River, the Crowne Plaza London City is close to the St. Peter's Walkway where you can see the London Eye, the Southbank Centre and St. Paul's Cathedral. The family suite had two comfortable queen beds. After a generous breakfast including freshly made omelettes, smoked salmon and watermelon, we jumped on the Blackfriars tube station right outside the hotel door. With kids in tow, we got to the Tower of London in no time for a hands-on Tudor history lesson in the morning before the crowds around the Crown Jewels blocked the views from the pipsqueak members of our party.
After a tiring day at one of the busiest attractions in London, we headed back to the hotel for dinner at the Chinese Cricket Club, one of the two restaurants in the hotel that attract clientele based on their own foodie reputations. It's a Sichuan/dim-sum oasis with traditional specialties like Northern-style beef sautéed with spicy, hot and aromatic sauce (Chinese translation: mouth-watering beef), steamed vegetable dumplings and crispy duck with pancakes.
Before catching the West End show of Mathilda, we went to Sticks n'Sushi, a brilliant concept of fresh sushi and yummy yakitori sticks (hence the name "sticks"), started by brothers celebrating their half-Japanese, half-Danish ethnicity. The yakitori menu offered the widest array of flavors, tastes and aromas from blackened miso cod to ribeye. . The kids' bento box is the perfect introduction for a lifelong addiction with sushi rolls, chicken meatball skewers and endamame beans. The sashimi literally melted in my mouth, a sign of its fresh-off-the-boat status
Next on our itinerary was the British Museum so we moved to a different hotel, the Citadines Apart'hotel, part of the Ascott serviced apartment chain, which was just around the corner from the venerable institution. The Citadines is a beautifully elegant service apartment with a separate bedroom and a kitchenette with fridge and dishwasher. They even left rubber green frogs for the kids to play with. Quiet and peaceful respite in the middle of busy London, another bonus was a Waitrose grocery store across the street. Within ten minutes of leaving the hotel, we were "meeting" Egyptian mummies, perusing the Parthenon marbles and (kind of) reading the Rosetta Stone.
All in all, the key to making the most out of London on a spring break visit is staying somewhere close to the sites you want to see. You also have to take advantage of the huge range of gastronomic eateries that may not be available where you live, which is a valuable lesson for kids too. We left London, feeling exhilarated and rejuvenated, ready to take on the rest of the long April respite.
For more insider tips on London, go to VisitLondon.com.