I arrived in London from Paris on June 15. My 90 days on the continent of Europe had finally come to a close. I had felt the approach of this closing to Act 1 of my trip for days and was happy to have it finally arrive. This happiness did not, however, completely dispel the slight apprehension I had for going through customs, or the melancholy I felt at crossing the waters of the English Channel and leaving so many adventures behind me. I persevered and made it through the various passport checks, enjoyed the ride through northern France and can now say that I have been under the English Channel, which is a cool thing to say, I think.
The Eurostar train terminates at St Pancras station in London. I was a bit disturbed by this since at first I incorrectly read the station name as St Pancreas, but I quickly realized my mistake. Finding the tunnels down to the tube (the subway) was simple enough. I got myself an Oyster card, which is much like a Charlie card back in Boston, for paying for transit. While many people find the tube map and system to be overwhelming, I thought the map was well planned out and the only complexity came from the sheer number of lines there are. It is certainly more user friendly than the Paris metro. But at this point I have had to figure out so many public transit systems that I feel very confident in my abilities to navigate any city I land in. Despite the long walks through the tunnels, I quickly found the line I wanted and was on my way to my hostel. The hostel was located some distance outside the main center of London but was no more than a fifteen-minute ride by the tube. It was in a quiet neighborhood, which I appreciated in the evenings.
Once I got my bags settled at the hostel, I still had a few hours left of the afternoon so I caught a train back into the city. I got off at Piccadilly Circus and had an early dinner before wandering down to Trafalgar Square. Unfortunately there was some event that was being set up so I did not get a great view of the square. I eventually made my way over the Thames and to the London Eye, that giant glass wheel that’s a bit of an eyesore. On a whim, I decided to take a ride on it as my “overly touristic thing” to do in London. The view is admittedly good, but the ride is still supremely overpriced. Still, it was a good first thing to do. After that I walked back over the river at the Houses of Parliament and caught those buildings and the tower of Big Ben in the most amazing light as the sun set. At last the adventures of the day, and the fact that I had started the day in France, caught up with me and I caught the tube back to my hostel.
All I could get of Trafalgar without scaffolding and tarps..
Riding the Eye
Elizabeth Tower where Big Ben lives.
My first full day in London I had scheduled a Muggle Tour for the afternoon. This is exactly what it sounds like. A tour, for muggles, around the city that takes you to various filming locations for the Harry Potter movies or places in the city that had specifically inspired J.K. Rowling. The whole tour was delightful and this was certainly helped by the fact that the tour guide was the most adorable, charming, young Englishman I had ever met. The number of tour participants who must fall instantly in love with him and his nearly perfect knowledge of Harry Potter must be astronomical. Some of the places he took us I never would have thought to go to on my own. At one point we even take the tube a couple of stops and at Westminster he made us all shout Expecto Patronum which was quite fun. The very last stops on the tour are the alleyways that had inspired Diagon and Nocturn alleys. Just like in the books, the real life alleys are diagonally across a busy street from each other and it was really cool to walk from one to another. The alley that Diagon Alley was based on was lined with shops, most of which sold books of one sort or another. One shop even sold first editions of the Harry Potter books. Hopefully I can find the alley when I’m back in London for a few days at the end of my trip, it would be fun to spend more time there.
Oh and 10 Downing St where the Prime Minister lives. Just because we passed by.
Before meeting up with the tour group, I had a wander around the city. I had a lovely lunch at Borough Market, which is an open-air market for artisan foods and farmer stands. So many delicious things for sale! After inspecting every stall, I walked over to the Tower Bridge. Most people assume that London Bridge is the big fancy one, but this is incorrect. London Bridge is a flat, concrete, rather boring structure that does not deserve such name recognition. Tower Bridge is rather obviously named since it does indeed have towers and is directly next to the Tower of London. While I did not go into the Tower of London on this trip, I did walk by it and read all of the information signs around the grounds. To complete my circle back to the meeting place for the Muggle Tour, I walked across the Millennium Bridge (the strangely designed walking bridge) and took a peek at the Globe Theater.
Tower of London on the banks of the Thames.
Tower Bridge in all it’s glory.
Day two in London took me to Oxford to see Christ Church College, which is part of the University there. Parts of this college were used for the Harry Potter films and I had several fan-girl moments while walking through the grounds. The whole of Oxford is very charming. I stopped in a pub for lunch and to watch some football. Oh, and to find Narnia, apparently. But got tired pretty quickly and hopped the train back to London.
Where Neville had a nasty flying lesson.
The staircase where McGonagall welcomed the first year students!
Some fun details from the college chapel.
I had just a few other attractions I wanted to see before heading south to Brighton. First on the list was Westminster Abbey. I highly recommend a trip to this gorgeous church. It is enormous and has so many tombs and monuments inside; some parts are actually quite crowded because so many rich and famous people wanted to be buried there. Pictures are not allowed inside, unfortunately, but I did get some shots of the outside and the cloisters. My two favorite parts of the Abbey were getting to see the tombs of Elizabeth I and her sister Mary Tudor (Elizabeth is actually right on top of Mary) and the Lady Chapel. This chapel at the back of the Abbey is truly a magnificent sight. Since being so places and seeing so many lovely sights, it is hard for manmade structures to take my breath away anymore. This chapel did the trick. The whole ceiling is an intricate pattern carved into stone that was declared a wonder of the world when it was first revealed. If you get a chance, see if you can find an image of it online. The ceiling isn’t the only wonderful part of the room. There are huge windows that fill the whole place with light and there are heraldic flags hanging from every wall. Along the bottom of the walls are the seats for the nights of the realm. Certain councils still meet here and the heraldry for the men who have sat in the seats through the ages are painted on the backs of each one. Truly a lovely space to behold.
Because old stuff is cool.
From Westminster, I made my way to Buckingham Palace. Unfortunately the palace was closed to tours but I still got to see the grand gates, Victoria’s statue, and the guards posted at the doors. Around the back of the palace are the Mews. I was a bit confused by the name since that usually indicates a place for falcons, but in this case the Mews is the Royal Stables. The actual stables were just one part of the area you got to tour through. Apparently the Queen names each of the horses and they have nameplates on their stalls. Reading off names chosen by HRM was quite amusing as some were appropriately majestic and others were just plain funny or whimsical. Learning about the culture of the stables and the fact that staff and their families traditionally lived on site and there was even a school for the children was very interesting. The best part was the carriages. Dude, when you are the royal family of England you get some pretty sweet rides. Admittedly, there was enough gold on some of the carriages to end poverty in certain countries, but they were just so pretty!
That palace life
Not solid gold, but still. So shiny!
After I had enough of the Mews, I made my to some more Harry Potter sights. A girl can never get enough. A former coworker from the museum had been thoughtful enough to send me a link to a brand new store that was featuring the work of some of the graphic designers from the films. Of course I had to check that out. The store was in an old townhouse, which was the perfect location. The narrow staircase had been plastered with copies of the Daily Prophet and other images from the films. Each floor had a theme as well. One had a whole bunch of labels and signs from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, schoolbooks, and even a couple vials of Dumbledore’s memories. Another had a whole bunch of copies of the Daily Prophet and close up of the advertisements that you only glimpse for a moment in the movies. At the very top is a room with a fireplace and out from the fireplace spill hundreds of Harry’s letters from Hogwarts. They are carefully glued down otherwise I would have snuck one into my bag. Everything on the walls was for sale and they had a booklet with the prices for everything. I think the cheapest item was still around £80 so nothing I could afford. Not that I would have subjected something so precious to the dangers of my backpack. Someday they will mass-produce some of their prints and I’ll get my fill then. The shop was also just around the corner from the theater where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was playing. I stopped into the box office to ask how crazy I would have to be to hope for tickets. The very nice man responded that I would have to be absolutely insane, but he did take the time to give me a few suggestions of ways that I might still be able to get tickets. Kind as this was, I am really not holding out any delusions. I think I’ll just have to wait for it to hop the pond to New York. Not that I won’t be getting a copy of the script next month when it’s released in book form…
Close as I’ll get for a while.
Almost like getting my own letter, but not quite.
The pictures were not moving but it was still cool to see.
On my very last day in London I explored Notting Hill a bit. It was not quite what I expected, but maybe that’s just because I could not find Hugh Grant anywhere. And I did look. There are some impressive townhouses up there and the streets are almost scarily clean. Such a difference from the rest of London. I took a walk around the park at the top of the hill that was lovely and very large. Did find a restaurant that served a large and delicious English breakfast. On the way back into the city I took a stroll through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. Both are huge and lovely. There was a little corner of Hyde Park that was dedicated to a community education garden. I need to do more research on the organization that runs it. The little garden with raised beds was well maintained, had a lot of diversity, and they even had chickens in one corner of the fenced plot. It was quite a long walk back to the tube and I was grateful to be able to finally sit.
Look I found rich people!
I took the train to King’s Cross so I could have a quick look at platform 9 and ¾. This turned out to be rather a disappointment. There are, in fact, no barriers between platforms 9 and 10 and the wall that was supposedly used for filming is at the other side of the atrium from the trains. It’s basically I really obvious tourist trap that I’m sure drives locals and station staff crazy. But at least I can say I’ve been there. So I think I completed all of my Harry Potter requirements for London.
I was sad to leave the city, but all the rumors about it being an extremely expensive place to visit are all true so I think my bank account was glad to escape. The train ride to Brighton was uneventful and I’ve already told you about that seaside town in another post. Until next time!