“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
– Samuel Johnson
Overall we’d say that is mostly true. We spent about 10 days in London but feel like that was barely scratching the surface. We left many museums, filming locations, and sight seeing for next time we visited. This time around we took care of the priorities.
Harry Potter World!
This was the number one priority! Hayley’s favorite book series is Harry Potter. She encouraged me to read them and now I’ve come to love the books as well.
Months ago when we decided on this grand adventure, Hayley was already buying tickets to the Making of Harry Potter in London – it was a must see. The whole experience is jam packed with the real sets and props from the movies. In the future we’ll have to do a post just about this Harry Potter experience, but for now here’s a few of our favorite shots.
First and foremost is the Goblet of Fire at the entrance of the exhibit.
First we entered the great dining hall! What an incredible feeling of stepping into Hogwarts. Our eyes were like dinner plates when we stepped in! A little blury but I hope you get the idea of how grand the entrance is.
Found a complete collection of wands used by the characters. Each specific wand for the actor had about a dozen replicas for filming purposes.
Gryffindor’s cozy common room.
Seeing the boys dorm from Gryffindor put the size and scope into perspective. The beds stayed the same size throughout the movies even though the boys grew up. They were crammed in like sardines by the end of it.
Hagrid’s home was even more filled with stuff than we thought it would be.
Stopping by the Burrow. The set designer went to great lengths to make it look like a thrift shop. Notice the Dementor in the upper left corner.
The working door to the Chamber of Secrets!
Potions class with Snape!
Diagon Alley was a hoot. We wanted to go inside the store and buy a wand or one of the Weasley’s gags.
J.K. Rowling was inspired to create Diagon Alley after visiting The Shambles Street in York, England.
Next we swung over the the Dursley’s house on Privet Drive.
And were thrilled to see all of Harry’s letters flying about!
Walking across the covered bridge towards Hogwarts.
London’s only triple decker Knight Bus.
In order to get to the Hogwarts Express we had to get Hayley through 9 3/4. By the way, there is a 9 3/4 platform at the London train station but the line to get your picture taken with a trolley is usually over an hour long. At the Harry Potter Experience we had no problem posing with a trolley!
The Hogwarts Express is a real train, refurbished specifically for filming.
The train cabin where Harry and the gang rode into Hogwarts. The train had multiple cars set up like this, and each cabin was from a different movie.
This castle is the model the movie used for all of the exterior shots of the castle, including when a dragon at the Triwizard Tournament chased Harry. What an incredible way to end the tour.
William Blake’s Grave
William Blake has held a place in my heart since college. He is the quintessential Romantic. Back in 2010 when I first went to London I went to the cemetery where he was buried. The official location of his grave was never verified and marked. So when I got there, his final resting place looked like this.
When we came back to London I learned the official Blake Society was finally, after over 100 years, placing a memorial stone over his exact resting place. Like any good English majors, we hopped the metro and zipped over. The following picture is from the opposite direction as the former, but it shows the fan fare that went into the celebration.
What was cool about this gathering was these people love Blake. These are the most nerdy, literary gathering of book geeks you’ll ever see. The extra bonus was Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden stopped by to talk about Blake’s influence in his music. Very cool to see perhaps the biggest Heavy Metal lead singer pay homage to a classic poet/painter/visionary like Blake.
We went to Tower of London mostly to feast our eyeballs on the Crown Jewels.
On our way there we were guided around by an official Beefeater. In order to be a Beefeater you have to have been in the British military for 30 years, have a blemish-free record, and you have to be recommended highly – very tough gig to get into. These folks are the inspiration for Beefeater Gin you may have seen in your local liquor shop.
Anyway, the tour was pretty darn interesting, but the crowning jewel of the tour was the Crown Jewels. While they wouldn’t let us take photos inside the tower, below is just a taste of what the Jewels look like.
The above image is a paltry recreation of the actual Jewels but it was the best free image I could find. The Crown Jewels are located deep in a dark chamber of the Tower of London. The are perfectly polished gold with jewels like stars. They’re the most exquisite jewelry you’ve seen – and there is a lot of it! Not just a crown or two. They have staffs, crowns, diadems, serving platters, punch bowls, and on and on.
Here’s a bootleg video of someone illegally recording inside the tower, so take a look for yourself.
The Queen has a few palaces to call home. Buckingham Palace is the famous place where tourists often see the Changing of the Guard. We happened to be in London during a time in which they offered tours through Buckingham. Again, they don’t photography or videos, but here is a tour from the BBC.
Every room looked like you were on a movie set. I don’t know how it could possibly have been more lavish and impressive. Every square inch is decorated in some way – nothing is left dull. The paintings, sculptures, furniture, wallpaper, and everything else is immaculate. All in all a magnificent, world-class palace. A must see.
For all of you who don’t know, we love ABBA and the movie Mama Mia. Naturally that means we had to see it in theater.
During intermission was the only time we could really get a decent picture of the stage. The blue screen is supposed to symbolize the main character’s ocean-inspired dream sequence. Some seats are empty because people were in the hallway buying wine and ice cream.
The play was fantastic. Every 5 minutes was another song to belt the lyrics out to. I was dancing in my seat all show long, so when the encore happened at the end of the night, I was thrilled to see everyone got up out of their seats and start boogieing! People were dancing in the aisles, seats, balconies! Of course mostly everyone there was women, but I didn’t care – we were there to dance!
3 Year Anniversary
We also got to celebrate our 3 year anniversary! Per tradition, we bought vanilla cupcakes and made a cheers to the future.
Hayley grew up on the Beatles, so it was only fitting she cross Abbey Road where the Beatles once did. The craziest part is the hoards of people jamming up traffic while trying to recreate the famous picture. They have a live cam where you can watch people do this all day long: https://www.earthcam.com/world/england/london/abbeyroad/?cam=abbeyroad_uk
Fish & Chips
Often pronounced “fush ahun chups” by locals, we were thrilled to get our fix of fish and chips. It’s as common as burger joints back home. Our introductory serving was top-notch, award winning bliss.
Nothing fun about this. If you remember from earlier this year, we dodged a jihadi attack by a day outside Flinder’s Station in Melbourne, Australia. We missed this attack by about 3 hours.
This attack was shockingly similar to the one in Melbourne. As you can see from the image below, the driver (red line) came across the bridge and turned towards Westminster Abbey before running into multiple cyclists. Luckily no one died. This comes about one year after the last attack on Westminster Bridge where the jihadi killed and stabbed multiple people. Our path that morning was the blue line.
Hayley and I planned to walk the Westminster Bridge early in the morning to get a jump on the day. On the morning of, we decided to sleep in for a few hours because our day before had been so busy.
Once we got to the bridge that morning we saw it was closed. At the time we had no idea what was going on.
The vibe in the city afterwards was so weird. It didn’t feel panicked or worried. It just felt like people have gotten used to the idea of lunatics trying to kill them once in a while. It felt like Londoners have grown complacent.
Rick Steve’s Walking Tour
London, being the international city it is, has the pleasure of being the subject of one of Rick Steve’s guided audio tours. This one led us through the city of Westminster into London and what an absolute treat to take. For every neat thing we took a picture of, we passed by 10 equally cool things. Here are a few of our favorite moments from the tour.
Here is Hayley in front of the location for Gringotts Wizarding Bank from Harry Potter!
This neo-gothic looking church is actually a court house. Sometimes you’ll spot celebrities out here.
This is the church where the British contribution to the Crusades was planned.
Literary giant Dr. Samuel Johnson lived in this house. He also, with a lot of help, wrote the first dictionary.
The front of the most important cathedral in the United Kingdom, St. Paul’s.
English explorer Sir John Smith. He’s the chap that you might remember from the Disney movie Pocahontas.
The financial district is the eminent powerhouse in Europe. This is where all the big business deals get done, folks!
These are Corinthian columns outside one of the major banks in the financial district. You can tell they’re Corinthian because of the flower-like tops.
I’ve annoyed Hayley to no end by pointing out the three different column types wherever we go in Europe. Once you know them, you’ll see them everywhere!
Here’s a crash course. From simple to extravagant they go: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian. In the image below each version has a modified version, but overall pretty much any column you see will be Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian.
With so much to do and see here in London, we would say it is a must see/visit place. Even with our close class with terrorism and the incredibly high stabbing/acid attacks, London offers heaps and heaps of adventure, learning, and fantastic memories.
Having said that, if it weren’t for being incredibly dangerous and expensive, London would get 5 stars based on all the opportunity. So, we have to give it…
There you have it! That’s a summary of our time in London. Have you been there before? Did you love it? Did you hate it? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below!