This post is being written on the go on my iPhone, so please bear with me!
Literally nothing about this day went as planned. The plan was to take a bus from Florence to Pisa at 3:40am, fly to London at 6:40, then travel to our airbnb apartment before venturing out to see the most famous sights of London. But Murphy decided his law wasn’t being used enough.
1. Liz missed our bus. She arrived just as it was leaving and they had already given her reserved seat to another person who hadn’t night one prior. She ended up catching the next bus an hour later. That would’ve been cutting it close, if it weren’t for
2. Our flight was delayed by SIX HOURS. Since it was 4am Liz (once she arrived) and I ended up curling up in airport seats and sleeping until 10:30. We gotcomplimentary sandwiches then went through security and flew to London. Everything seemed great, but we didn’t realize that
3. It would take almost three hours to get from our airport to our house. We flew into Stansted which is farther away from London than the other airports (thanks Ryanair). The two buses we took to get there took approximately five-ever.
Luckily things got better. once we got to our airbnb apartment. Our host, Daryl, was there to let us in and help us get comfortable.
Daryl directed us to a nearby street where we could withdraw some pounds. Then we went to eat at a nearby fish and chip shop, which turned out to be the best decision EVER. First of all there were only locals there, so we were doing something right. Our waitress, Paula, totally loved us. She described all the types of fish we had and told us her favorites. She brought us a plate of tartar sauce, and described it to us as if we hadn’t had it before. “I would recommend you try just a little bit first, just to make sure you like it!”
She brought us our fish and chips, then came back later to make sure we liked it. She even seemed a little anxious to please us! When we asked for more tartar sauce she got so excited. She brought it to us and said, “I could listed to your accents all day!” Nobody’s ever said that before! By the way, the fish and chips was totally delicious. And huge. We ate it with mayonnaise and vinegar and felt just like a local!
While we were eating another woman came up to us and asked us to sign a birthday card from the fish shop for a woman turning 98. We signed, “Happy Birthday from South Carolina and Pennsylvania!” and could hear them talking about us when they left.
Paula asked us to try to come back again another night so she could feed us other traditional British food. We weren’t able to, but that place will always be special to us!
After dinner we finally went to go see the sights we were supposed to see six hours prior. Our house was walking distance to the Tower of London, so we went there first. We walked across the beautiful Tower Bridge, and peeked over the gate of the Tower of London. Unlike Florence, London is quite new and modern (more or less), so having this ancient, 11th century castle in the middle of this thriving city was really cool.
Then we took a stroll across the Thames towards Big Ben. It probably shouldn’t have taken too long, but we made a lot of pit stops. We checked out Shakepeare’s Globe, the London Eye, and the bridge in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince!
It was midnight by the time we reached Big Ben. This is important, because after taking two pictures of the clock all lit up it promptly turned dark. Big Ben’s bedtime! After that we hopped on the tube to go home, ready for a full night’s sleep.
We took off for Kensington Garden and Palace. In front of the palace was a statute of Queen Victoria. If you went to a webpage she would “talk” to you. She made a lot of jokes about being a statue, but also talked about her life! It was weird but cool! There were a bunch of little kids’ soccer teams practicing on the gardens in front of William and Kate’s home. How cool is it to live in a place where that’s normal?
We got as far in to the palace as the bathrooms before they would try to make us pay, then we strolled around the gardens some before heading off to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards. On our way there we got distracted by St. James Park, which is a giant park that is home to pelicans!
We arrived a little after the ceremony, so there was a large crowd already. We missed most of it, but at the end when we were walking around the palace to get to another spot, we were stopped from crossing the street, and managed to get a front row seat for the band leaving!
After that we went to Westminster Abbey. Next door to the church is the Cellarium Cafe, where we had afternoon tea! It included small cakes, finger sandwiches, two scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and a pot of loose leaf tea. It was all really good, and in a beautiful indoor terrace!
Normally you have to pay to get into Westminster, but we told the guards that we were there for Evensong (a service that’s mostly sung), and they let us right in. Since we still had plans for the rest of the day, though, after we gazed at beauty and stained glass windows of Westminster, we quietly let ourselves out.
The day was nice but windy, but that didn’t deter us from taking pictures at Parliament! We took all the common tourist pictures, and then some.
Next we walked to Soho, and in Picadilly Circus we bought our West End tickets for The Commitments. We just asked for the cheapest tickets they had and got what we got!
Tickets in hand we strolled around Soho, and checked out Chinatown, Trafalgar Square, and Covent Garden. In Trafalgar Square I was surprised to see a fountain I had taken a picture of last time I was in London, five years ago! It’s been so long I’d forgotten where it was taken!
The entire area was really hopping, but we didn’t have much time to see it all because we had a reservation for the restaurant right next to our theatre. I had bangers and mash, and tried treacle tart! We finished dinner and skipped across to our theatre, where we were let in to the ground floor seating. The show lasted over two hours, but it didn’t feel like that! The Commitments is about a group of people from Dublin who try to start a soul band. The entire show is a bunch of amazing songs and awesome accents (that I’ll be hearing in two days.) At the end we got a little concert from the actors of several more 80’s soul songs!
After the show we got to see Soho at night before heading home on the tube.
Liz’s friend is studying in Oxford, so today we went to see her. The getting there part should’ve been much easier, except the tube was being worked on so we had to get off early and walk the rest of the way. Luckily once we were at the bus station the bus said Oxford all over it so it was hard to miss.
Oxford is a little under two hours away, so we had a nice ride with a view of the British countryside. Once in Oxford we met up with Liz’s friend, Chloe, and her mom and cousin.
We got a quick lunch then went on a free walking tour of Oxford. Our tour guide was excellent, he was funny and interesting and great at projecting. He took us all around the city and showed us famous places and told us crazy stories.
When the tour ended we went to a nearby fudge store where the employees are very familiar with Chloe, and are our weight in free samples. Then we went to Christ Church for an Evensong (for real this time). We ended up going to dinner at another pub owned by the same company we went to yesterday, so Liz and I were already familiar with their food. Then we went to the pub where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would meet, The Eagle and the Child, affectionately called The Bird and the Baby by the famous authors.
Apparently on Sundays the tube closes early, because when we got back to London at midnight all the stations were closed! A kind of mean lady told us we had to take a bus, and didn’t want to answer anymore questions. Luckily it was the same bus we took the first night, so we knew what to do already. Also it was a shorter ride because it was so late!
Today we got to sleep in one more hour. We got up, ate breakfast, and took the tube to Shoreditch. Shoreditch is a totally awesome, up-and-coming hipster neighborhood in east London. When I asked Livia where we should go in London, she immediately said Shoreditch, and I understand why! The place is so cool! Liz and I spent three hours just walking around the neighborhood, browsing in vintage clothing stores and taking pictures of graffiti.
There’s this place called Hackney City Farm in the middle of Shoreditch that’s, you guessed it, a fully working farm in the middle of the city. Unfortunately for us and a small child and her mum, the farm is closed on Mondays. When we were standing by the gate a man came out and said, “Can I help you?” We said, “We’re sad!” To which he replied, “Well I can’t help you there!” Then he told us we could just walk around to the back of the farm to see the animals in the pastures, which is exactly what we did.
We got a quick lunch at a cute cafe and walked down Brick Lane, the biggest street in Shoreditch. We saw a dozen great-looking restaurants, shops, and cafes, but we had to stop inside Dark Sugars Chocolate. It smelled amazing in there! We asked the owner how his hot chocolate was and he said, “Sexy!” so of course we had to get some. The spices available to put in the drinks today were ginger and cadamon, so we got one of each and split them. He made our drinks and then shaved off enough milk, dark, and white chocolate to feed a small country then dumped them in too. Even though I spilled mine on myself it was still the most delicious thing ever. We asked what time he closed, but at first he was too distracted by the y’all in the sentence. Second time we asked her said he closed when all the ladies were happy. Good answer!
Next up on our schedule was the HARRY POTTER STUDIO TOUR. Needless to say we were a little excited! We accidentally took a faster/more expensive train to the studios than we meant to, so we got there way earlier than our reservation. That worked out well, though, because they let us in early. Which worked out well as well because we literally spent four hours in there and could’ve spent many more.
The tour starts with a quick introduction to the set of the Great Hall with a tour guide, then we were set loose on the rest of the studio. Liz and I spent three hours on the first room alone. It had so much in it! Everything from introducing the producers and directors, etc, to costumes and wigs, to sets and props, to special effects. We got electronic guides that gave us a bunch of backstory and fun facts and interviews on everything we were seeing. We could’ve spent even longer in there until we were told we only had an hour until the last shuttle left and we hadn’t even gone through half.
The next part of the tour was the Hogwarts Express. This portion literally opened up a week ago, so it was brand new! We could go in, stand in the train, and sit in the seats where DanRad and everyone else sat. Here we met the closing manager, who told us we could take the shuttle with all the employees who left later, so we had more time to explore.
In between this soundstage and the next was a cafe where we got butterbeer (one of three places that serves it), and an outside area that had the Knight Bus, Privet Drive, giant chess pieces, the flying Ford Anglia, Hagrid/Serius’ motorbike, and the set of the Hogwarts’ bridge. By this time there was only us and the employees left, so we didn’t have to wait in lines and could run right in and take pictures.
Next was the creature room, which had models for all kinds of creepy things. All the goblin masks, Grawp’s head, Lupin as a werewolf, a creepily realistic Aragog, all the creatures you could imagine were in this room. Also in there were models of actor’s bodies, including a shrunken Dumbledore so when Hagrid held him he looked smaller, and a Hermione with electronics inside her so she blew bubbles while underwater during the Goblet of Fire.
After an animatronic Buckbeak was the Diagon Alley set. All of the shops you see in the movies were here. It’s really hard to remember that what we were seeing were really used for the movies! They weren’t just replicas made for the tour!
There were two rooms that featured the work of the drafters and designers, but the piece de resistance was the model of Hogwarts. It was absolutely immense. They had lights that imitated the movements of the sun, so we could see the castle at all times of day. Seeing the model revealed some interesting things about Hogwarts I didn’t realize, like how far away the Owlery is from the rest of the castle (hint: it’s very far).
We exited through the gift shop, where we obviously bought chocolate frogs. Then our friend the closing manager gave us free souvenir guidebooks and directed us to the shuttle to the station.
Going to the Harry Potter tour was absolutely one of the main highlights of my time in London. However, if you’re a huge fan like me, I’d recommend you go early so you have plenty of time to go through everything without feeling rushed. There were definitely moments where I was freaking out about whether we’d get to see everything or not.
Coming home was also an adventure, because the gates to enter the tube were open, so we just walked on in. Of course this is the one time somebody was checking cards and it turns out we were supposed to swipe anyways. We should’ve been fined but since we are leaving tomorrow for Dublin they let us off. However they held us up just long enough that we were starving by the time we left the station, and we bolted to a Chipotle and pretty much shoved food down our faces.
Tomorrow morning bright and early we leave for Dublin for leg two of our spring break! Here’s hoping the getting there is much better and the touring part is just as great!