New York – with kids in tow!

A few years ago the husband and I had a childfree break to New York – and it was fantastic! This time we took some of the kids with us – which had to lend itself to a ‘how a trip to New York differs when you take the kids’ blog post!

  1. Never trust a bargain airport aparthotel!!
    When the husband and I have had an early flight we’ve always stayed on airport.  But travelling with the kids meant it would have to be 2 hotel rooms – or try an apartment.  Yeah – I failed with that one.  The on site parking was good (although an additional overnight charge which I must have missed in the booking) but the slashed sofas / smashed window / ripped sheets / non functioning in room phone were all not the best – and cost almost £300.  But hey ho, you live and learn, and we definitely won’t stay there ever ever again!!
  2.  They will find the free wifi EVERYWHERE – so can be relied upon to provide this information quickly – be it the free airport wifi before the lounge, the lounge, the airport waiting for the baggage, the hotel whilst waiting to check in, random shops etc etc.  Lack of availability of free wifi and the possibility that their social media streaks may fail is seemingly a fate worse than death.
  3. Travelling in the back of a New York taxi in a heatwave is unbearably hot!  Now I don’t know this personally – because I always had the front seat (a ‘benefit’ of horrible travel sickness!)  but the drivers and I were always lovely and airconned.  However, the plastic screen between the front and the back means the cold air does not circulate – and so the back is ROASTING! We did find one driver who had improvised his aircon – which was very welcome!


    I can also say that it would appear New York cabbies don’t like taking 4 customers!  The huffing involved with removing things from the front seat seemed a regular occurrence.  We are also spoilt with taxi drivers in the UK – and especially London – knowing their way about – it would appear that anyone can drive a cab in New York, even with minimal grasp of English let alone any ‘knowledge’ at all!
  4. Siblings will always fight over who has the best bedroom!!  We stayed at The London last time – and after some research, found that their 2 bedroom suites were cheaper than 2 separate rooms in other hotels – so went for that!  Actually the living room was big enough to house a roll out bed – so once child could be in there and one in the separate bedroom to avoid fighting!   The only downside was that the 2 bedroom suites don’t have the view of Central Park that our one bedroom had last time – but that wasn’t a major issue.  Sadly we didn’t celeb spot anyone in the lift this time! (Telling Billy Idol about working in WHSmiths in Acocks Green still ranks as one of the most surreal and random moments ever!!)
  5. Sights that can be Snapchatted / Instagrammed are key to the children!  (I should have guessed this after a dog Snapchat filter was applied to the Mona Lisa in February!) They could tell what shops were nearby by the available Snapchat filters (who knew?  Well, who over 40 knew?!)

  6. You can take kids to lovely restaurants (The Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, the King Cole Bar in the St Regis Hotel) – but they’d be just as happy at McDonalds or Burger King. #heathens

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    Helping his Dad with the world famous crab cakes!
  7. For us and people of our age you can remember exactly where you were when 9/11 happened (the husband was having lunch in The Sports Bar on Broad Street, Birmingham – I was at the office of the aerospace company I’d started working for 10 days before) but for the kids it’s history.  We went to the memorial and the museum – which are both really well done – but the emotions for the kids were very different than for us.

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  8. Things end up REALLY expensive when you have to double up – so, for example, taking a bike ride round Central Park.  We were right royally screwed by the 5$ per minute and 25 minute ride (which included the fighting amongst the drivers about whose fare we were, the stopping so we could walk through Strawberry Fields and then stopping at traffic lights IN THE PARK!)  Anyway – 250$ later, and me moaning about thieving robdogs to 2 large Eritrean gentlemen and the lesson has been learned!  Oh well – at least we got to pose in front of the fountain from Friends……..

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  9. You can’t wing it with Broadway tickets!  When the husband and I went to New York previously we watched The Book Of Mormon – which was BRILLIANT – but possibly the least child friendly musical ever!  So we planned ahead and booked tickets for School of Rock – which is equally awesome (but with a lot less swearing and rude stuff!!)

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  10. You might have the kids with you – but your husband will always be the biggest kid of them all!

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    Fountains at Battery Park
  11. You can persuade them to walk further when it’s something interesting – in this case, walking the Highline!  The 12 year old was insistent we did complete end to end too (he is slightly obsessive about such things – but it increased my steps for the day!!)

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  12. Even when your kids are 14 and 12 it’s still really annoying when the flight home is delayed – but at least they managed to sleep on the floor!!

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In summary New York was still so good they named it twice – just different going with the kids in tow – but so lovely to make memories. Also, when you’re used to 4 kids, going away with 2 was surprisingly easy – and we’ve already told the little 2 we’ll take them in a few years time.  I wonder what will have changed in New York by then (this is said with the context that when I went in 1999 I didn’t go to the top of the World Trade Centre as I wanted to go to the shopping mall underneath – and said I’d do ‘Windows on the World’ next time I went………………)

 

 

 

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Stalking Olivia Pope – aka a few days in Washington DC

I have been lucky enough to do 3 US cities in the last 6 months! Back in October the husband and I went to New York for a few days and then I had a girls’ weekend in Chicago in December. So I went for a hat trick with Washington DC last week!

Washington preparations
Washington preparations

We had a fab time in New York and we try to get away for a few days every 6 months or so just as ‘us’ and without the kids in tow. For us, midweek works best, as the children have all of their normal routines and so don’t really have time to miss us! Our fabulous nanny stays – and the kids love it that she’s having ‘sleepovers’ – and we know they’re in safe hands. So we were deciding where to cash the airmiles in for this trip – and we both LOVE the TV show Scandal (if you haven’t watched it – then you can get the previous series box sets on catch up TV!) which is set in and around Washington DC – so that is where we decided to visit!

My major problem throughout the trip was remembering that it was the Obamas that live in The White House and not Fitz and Mellie!!

So here are my highlights – and compare / contrast with other places in the States.

Scandal spotting

It is a well known fact that customs officers / border guards DO NOT HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOUR – but of course that didn’t stop the husband telling the official that was checking our passports and ESTAs that we were hoping to spot Olivia Pope (the leading lady of Scandal!) But thankfully we weren’t deported before we’d even collected our bags!!

A lot of the action in Scandal takes place on benches outside the White House. After much walking about we couldn’t find the exact locations – and suspect it’s in the bit that is fenced off unless you’re important – but we re-enacted as best as we could…

Pretending to be some kind of spy.....
Pretending to be some kind of spy…..

We also took advantage of the fact that the US are 5 weeks ahead of us in the UK in terms of viewing – and watched those episodes on our computer in our hotel room whilst sampling the mini bar – living the dream for parents of small children – uninterrupted TV with a plentiful supply of booze and snacks!

The White House

This is possibly the most iconic building in the United States – and so is obviously a must see (and a must selfie!)

White House selfie
White House selfie

We were both surprised how small it is (relative to ‘Buckingham Palace’ or such like) – although the husband’s comment that it looked like ‘a big house in Barnt Green’ was perhaps under-selling it a bit.  Having said that the husband is renowned for being disappointed by landmarks.  He was concerned the Sydney Opera House looked dirty, and the Burj Al Arab looked dated!!

I was surprised how close you can get in terms of being able to see in.  If Fitz and Mellie Barack and Michelle were having a glass of wine on their balcony – you could TOTALLY see them from the street – weird!

The rear of the White House
The rear of the White House
Look - you can see onto the balcony!!
Look – you can see onto the balcony!!

We weren’t organised / special enough to get a tour (Charles and Camilla were there instead – and we were asked a number of times by barmen / taxi drivers if we knew them!!) but the nearby Visitor Centre was very informative and actually quite emotional.

History

OK – so the US is not renowned for it’s history (which is why when we go to Stratford Upon Avon, just down the road, it’s crawling with Americans!) but if you want American History then DC is a great place to go.

Looking down Pennsylvania Avenue
Looking down Pennsylvania Avenue

The different monuments and memorials – The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial amongst others, were all really moving and it was interesting to see them at day and then amazingly lit up at night (something you also see in Scandal!!)

The Washington Monument
The Washington Monument

We did a bus tour (in fact we did 2, as the one we’d pre booked was rubbish – so we did a Big Bus one instead #toptip) and this made sure that we saw lots – and also got lots of information about the city.

Going out to the Arlington National Cemetery was incredibly moving – the acres and acres of graves take your breath away.

A very moving sight
A very moving sight

The tomb of the unknown soldier was particularly poignant – especially with the Pentagon viewed in the background.

The tomb of the unknown soldier
The tomb of the unknown soldier

The husbands OCD was impressed by the precision of the matching white headstones that go on for miles and miles (but he did struggle with the more higgledy piggledy ones).

Higgledy piggledy graves
Higgledy piggledy graves

I also hadn’t realised that despite remarrying, Jackie Kennedy Onassis was buried beside JFK.

The Kennedy graves
The Kennedy graves
Looking back towards DC from Arlington
Looking back towards DC from Arlington

Museums

There are A LOT of museums in DC – and you could probably spend a week and not see all of them (and we had shopping to do, bars to drink in and Scandals  to watch!)  Having taken recommendations from friends before, we went to the National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of America History and the International Spy Museum – all of which were really interesting.

Girl power plane
Girl power plane

I am only ‘slightly’ disappointed that we didn’t go to the National Museum of Natural History where Olivia’s Dad works as a cover for his B6-13 activities……..

Georgetown

This area has a really different feel to a usual big city.  The shops are great (the hotel recommended a toy shop which was brilliant) and it feels very ‘trendy’!  The waterfront area looks up and coming – but there was a lot of building work going on – and we had our worst meal of the whole trip at a restaurant there that had been recommended as ‘the place to eat’ by a taxi driver!  Lots of the houses have had famous residents historically and the architecture is really interesting.

The waterfront at Georgetown overlooking the river
The waterfront at Georgetown overlooking the river

Living like a local

One of the husband’s friends from when he was growing up moved to the States 20+ years ago – and they haven’t seen each other since.  He now works and lives near Washington.  We met him at his office and then he took us to meet his lovely wife and son at their house (complete with British bar in the basement!) and we went out for dinner with them.  It was lovely to see the ‘real’ side of the city and it’s surroundings and how the locals live – and not just do ‘touristy’ stuff.

The Stegg and Flower English bar!!
The Stegg and Flower English pub!!

Walking

I had a Fitbit for my birthday, a few days before we went away, and it was worn AT ALL TIMES.  We walked a lot – particularly the day we went to Arlington National Cemetery – that day we managed over 22,000 steps.  And up and down the stairs at the Lincoln Memorial – boom to the ‘floors climbed’ stat.

The steps!
The steps!

The husband did get a bit annoyed that I insisted on walking everywhere just to get my steps up (kind of the point of the Fitbit that he bought me!) and by the time we flew home his feet were covered in blisters and his legs and back were aching ridiculously – whoops.

It was also interesting to see how undisturbed my sleep is in a hotel and even on a plane, compared to at home with the pesky kids!!

Overall we loved Washington DC.  It doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of New York or Chicago – but I felt safer there (possibly the men everywhere with ‘Secret Service’ on their vests helped with that – although clearly they aren’t very secret!!) and it was great to be able to see the sky.  We will definitely be back – and just maybe we’ll bump into Olivia Pope and Associates ……