Travel Series: London Part 1

London and I did not get off to a great start. We had just left Scotland, thus far my favorite place I’ve been in the world, and came out of the train into one of the world’s most bustling, busiest cities. Our train brought us to King’s Cross, so of course our first stop was to go see Platform 9 3/4. You can’t actually access the areas around platforms 9 and 10 without a ticket to get on a train, but they have an area set up just outside the ticket turnstiles where you can get your picture taken with the sign saying Platform 9 3/4. It was busy. We thought about waiting in line to get our picture, but we were tired and hot and (I was) grouchy, so we just took one from far away and headed to the Tube station.IMG_4869I heard from other people that the best thing to do was get a reloadable Oyster card to pay for our Tube journeys, so we waited in line for a while to get some. While we were perusing our options, an English man near us asked us how long we were planning to stay. He was actually super helpful and talked through all of our options with us, and recommended that we just use Apple pay on our phones to tap in and out of the turnstiles rather than buying Oyster cards. That sounded like a good plan to us, so we exited the line and headed for the turnstiles. When we tried to tap in, Apple pay came up on our phones, but it kept giving us an error message. An employee came over to look and asked us what country our credit cards were from. When we told him America, he said they had been having trouble with American cards, jokingly adding that it had been worse since Trump was elected. Since we couldn’t get through with our phones, we headed back to the line to buy Oyster cards. We were finally successful and took a couple different Underground trains to get to the stop closest to our AirBnb.When we emerged from the station, it was onto a super crowded, busy street. It felt a lot like New York and there were people, shops, and restaurants everywhere. I was dressed for Scotland (aka with a sweater, jacket, and boots I had to travel in because they wouldn’t fit in my bag) and London was significantly warmer. This, combined with trying to navigate my suitcase down the bustling sidewalk, made me feel like London and I were not going to be best friends.Our flat was just the next street over from the train station, and once we dragged our bags up the four (!) narrow flights of stairs and got the door open, I was kind of shocked to see how tiny it was. It was smaller than the hotel room we had stayed in while we were in Dublin, and smaller than the spare bedroom where we stayed at Meagan and Jacob’s apartment in Edinburgh. It was a studio apartment and one of the cheapest AirBnbs I could find in London, so I knew it would be small, but the pictures made it look quite a bit larger than it actually was. Once again, I was very glad that we each had only a carry on bag and backpack with us, because otherwise we wouldn’t have fit. I was especially glad of this when trying to maneuver my things up the stairs!Once I was able to put my bag down and change into some more weather-appropriate clothing, I was instantly in a more cheerful mood and more excited to explore the city. We had a Harry Potter studio tour scheduled at Leavesden Studios just a few hours after we arrived in London. The studio is in a suburb a little way out from the city, so we didn’t have time to relax and unpack. We were already cutting it a bit close on time. Once we changed clothes, we went to a cafe close by for some takeaway sandwiches and then headed back to the Tube station.To get to our destination, we needed to switch lines a few times. We made our first switch and boarded a new train. The train sat for a few moments, and then we heard an announcement that the train had been delayed but should be departing momentarily. A few moments later, there was another announcement saying that the train had been delayed indefinitely due to a fire farther down the line, and passengers should get off the train and seek other means of transportation.Before we left I downloaded an app for each of the major underground train systems we would be using on our trip. The apps were super helpful, especially the route planners that came with each one. I checked my app and found that the line we just had to get off of was the only way to get to our destination using the Underground. One of the more frustrating things about London, especially coming from Dublin and Edinburgh, was the lack of widely available Wifi. In Dublin and Edinburgh, we found it nearly everywhere we went and it was pretty reliable. In London, it was difficult to find and cut out frequently, even in our AirBnb. We couldn’t find Wifi to figure out the bus system, so we decided to just walk to the station we were supposed to be going to anyway and catch the Overground train. Although I was a little worried about missing our tour, walking to the station was a nice way to see some more of London. We walked through mainly residential neighborhoods and it made me feel a little more friendly toward the city.When we arrived at the station, we saw several fire trucks and emergency vehicles sitting outside of it. An employee assured us that we would still be able to take the Overground train, and that we even had time for a smoke before it was scheduled to arrive! This was another cultural thing that surprised us about Europe – there were people smoking everywhere.We waited for a bit and then boarded a very crowded train. I suppose it was rush hour, and we were taking a commuter train out to a suburb. There was hardly room to squish in, but we managed to find enough space for ourselves. This train was scheduled to make quite a few stops, but it was running late. We heard another announcement that this train would be skipping several stops to try to get back on schedule, and would continue straight on to the end of the line. I was very relieved to hear that, as we were now running quite late and were headed to the end of the line anyway.We exited the train station at our stop and found lots of buses emblazoned with large ads for the Harry Potter studio tour. These buses are specifically chartered to carry passengers from the train station to the studio. You have to show them your studio tour tickets for the same day before they allow you to buy bus tickets. Like almost all of the buses we saw in the UK, it was a double-decker and we headed up to the top.Once we arrived at the studio, we took our vouchers up to the ticket booth to receive our paper tickets. The woman working at the booth was very sweet, and encouraged us to walk smartly as the last tour of the day was just about to start, and there would be no admittance after the doors were closed. We hurried into and through the building to the place where the tours start. Outside the door was the cupboard under the stairs set, and we stopped for a quick picture. We were among the last few people admitted into the room for the tour.The tour started with the movie posters on the wall transforming into video screens, and then we were led into another room like a movie theater. We watched a short video featuring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, and then the screen lifted to reveal the set where the video had been filmed. We walked through the doors and entered the set of the Great Hall.

It was an incredible experience. The tour featured many of the actual sets, props, and costumes used in the filming of the Harry Potter movies. While we were there, the feature was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, so there were some extra sets and props from that film. The Great Hall was set up with the Goblet of Fire by the staff table in the front, complete with Dumbledore’s age line around it. We were able to see all kinds of things and take some fun pictures. There is an experience where you can go in front of a green screen and “fly” on a broomstick. You can also stand next to a broomstick and say “up” and it will rise up into your hand. We sat in a replica of Hagrid’s hut, complete with different size chairs to make whoever is in front seem much larger just like they did with Hagrid in the films. We walked through the Forbidden Forest and Number Four, Privet Drive. There is a cafe in the middle of the tour and David tried some butterbeer ice cream. I think my favorite is still the frozen butterbeer from Universal Studios in Orlando. We also got to board the Hogwarts Express and see Platform 9 3/4 again. There were classroom sets, Gryffindor tower, Dumbledore’s office, the Ford Anglia, Diagon Alley, and lots of other fun things to see.IMG_4882IMG_4878IMG_4879IMG_4881IMG_4884IMG_4898IMG_4896IMG_4885IMG_4899IMG_5345IMG_5349IMG_5359IMG_5357The last stop on the tour was my favorite part. In the last room, they have the actual model of Hogwarts that was used for all exterior shots of the castle in the films. David and I both felt surprisingly emotional looking at it. The detail is incredible and it made it all seem more real. I honestly think it was worth the price of admission just to see Hogwarts. For those of us who grew up with Harry, it’s an awe-inspiring experience to see that idea of home come to life. It made me think of something JK Rowling tweeted in 2015: “All these people saying they never got their Hogwarts letter: you got the letter. You went to Hogwarts. We were all there together.”IMG_4901IMG_4904IMG_5373IMG_5377

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