Europe 2016: What I learned

Well, our fantastic family trip to London and Ireland is done and while it’s great to be home, I can’t believe three and a half weeks went by so quickly. Overall it was a wonderful trip, from the museums and monuments of the British capitol to the green hills and ancient ruins of Ireland to the surreal craziness that was my first experience of a Star Wars convention. We had learned a lot about travel with kids from our earlier trips and were able to enjoy our trip without any major complications. But still, there are always lessons to be learned and this trip provided me with a few new tips to file away for future use. In no particular order, these include:

1) My husband is only a very slightly fanatical Star Wars fan

As I mentioned earlier, this entire trip began with my husband’s desire to attend Star Wars Celebration Europe in London in mid July, a three day event held at the ExCel convention centre just outside central London. I generally view his little Star Wars obsession as nutty but harmless. It turns out that on the nutty scale, he’s maybe a 1.5 out of 10. The level of fandom I encountered at this event was beyond anything I could ever have imagined. The scale and commitment of some of the costumes and the interest and knowledge of the minutia of the Star Wars franchise was mind boggling. At times I felt a bit like an anthropologist delving into an exotic and undiscovered culture as I walked around the convention floor.

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2) Apartments are great

We rented a one bedroom apartment in London for our eight days in the city and I’m very glad we went that route. It’s an overwhelming and exhausting city at times and having a bit more personal space and the comforts of home makes everything much easier. We were able to have all of our breakfasts and most of our dinners at home and that greatly helped both our budget and our health. And speaking of food…

3) Everyone needs Tesco Express

There was a small grocery store near our apartment called Tesco Express. There were similar stores scattered all over London, there always seemed to be one a few minutes away. They were a bit like North American convenience store except for one major difference: they actually sold real food for reasonable prices! Many items, like dairy products, pasta, snacks, sauces, bread and other staples were actually cheaper than what I usually paid at home. And while selection wasn’t great and I probably couldn’t do all my shopping there, they did have a reasonable selection of fruits and veggies and other fresh foods. I was able to make nutritious evening meals and breakfasts for my family for less than ten pounds a day.

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4) Kids don’t appreciate ruins

We did a lot of ruins this trip. Ireland has many, many old crumbling piles of rocks. Some are impressively restored and explained with crowds of bus tourists and souvenir stands. Others sit abandoned in fields, open to anyone to explore with only the local sheep to keep watch. We found this incredibly amazing. Our kids found this incredibly boring. We did our best to try to bring them to life, to research what we were seeing and explain things in kid friendly ways. Sometimes they had a short burst of interest. Mostly they kicked at the stones, tried to feed grass to the sheep, asked why they weren’t allowed to climb them for the tenth time and wanted to leave. Oh well, we can only hoped they will remember something.

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5) Kids do appreciate playgrounds

We found some fantastic playgrounds on this trip. In London we found a map that showed local playgrounds and found a few small ones near the sights we were planning to see. In Ireland we were able to visit some fantastic playgrounds in Dublin, Kilkenny and even on the Aran Islands and we were able to take the time to just hang out there and let the kids do their thing. We learned to not underestimate the positive impact a spell in the playground could have on our day.

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6) Ireland is incredibly friendly

We spent two weeks in Ireland and I don’t think we met a single grumpy person. Pretty much every person we met was helpful, considerate and friendly. One worker in a store actually left his store and walked down the street to point out a different store that had what we needed. There’s just something wonderful about being surrounded by so much pleasantness all the time.

7) Medieval castles have spiders

It turns out that 500 year old castles have a lot of cracks and crevices. Spiders really like cracks and crevices. Somehow, I never really thought about these fact before, but there you are. For some reason, Disney left that little fact about being a princess out of their movies.

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So that’s all I can think of for now. I’ll write more about the places we visited when I’m able to stay awake past 9pm again!




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