and Part 2 Here
Though we were sad to leave Edinburgh after only two days (of course in hindsight your favorite is going to be the one you plan the least time in!) we were excited to head to London. I was especially excited as I'm a bit of an Olympics nerd, and the Paralympics had started the day prior to our arrival.
Visiting during the games was both a good and a bad thing. Good, um, we were in London just weeks after the 2012 Olympics finished and the Paralympics were still going on. I can't tell you how many times Sean breathed a worried, "What!?!" as I gasped every time I saw another country's workout sweats walking the same street as us. Full-blown fangirl here.
Bad, it was crowded. Everywhere. Even more crowded than a touristy city like London usually is. And we didn't think to try to get tickets to any events before we got there, so they were all gone. And if you don't have a ticket, you don't get into Olympic Park. Instead, you take photos of Olympic Park from the (free) third floor of Marks & Spencer.
For the record, Marks & Spencer is a pretty amazing sight as it is. Housewares, clothes, food, drugstore, even full blown bank. You name it, they've got it. Feel free to bring that one across the pond any day now, Europe. And I noticed some pretty decent prices, too. Except for the fact that they were charging guests to look out their fourth floor windows to see Olympic Park... which is why we stopped at the third floor.
That's just part of the crowd getting off the tube headed to Olympic Park. The fact that we're not really "city" people might have added to the crowd anxiety.
I've always wanted to attend the Olympics as a spectator (there was even a dream in there for a brief moment as a kid that I'd someday end up fast enough to be an Olympic swimmer myself) and I remember saying when London won the bid in 2005 that 2012 would surely be my year to attend... I'd always wanted to go to London, and I'd always wanted to see the Olympics live.
I actually ended up vising London for a day just over a year later in 2006 when I was on my way to Spain. Then I kind of forgot about my need to be an Olympic spectator once I graduated college and realized just how much it would cost me. Years later, we began planning this trip in early 2012 and I suddenly realized my goal just might be a possibility.
Until my grad school finals and graduation didn't quite line up with the Olympic schedule, ha! I obviously didn't end up getting to go to London 2012, but it was enough for me to be in the city around the time of the games, and during the Paralympics. Rio... you're on my short list. Moving on...
Our second day we headed to Greenwich to the Prime Meridian site. We drop a ball in New York once per year. In Greenwich, they drop a ball every day at 1pm. And lucky us, we were there at just the right time to see the ball drop.
And take some photos of us standing on both sides of the line:
There was also a museum with lots of history about keeping time. We definitely recommend checking it out if you're ever in the area.
After Greenwich, we headed back to Westminster by ferry to see Parliament and Big Ben...
and Buckingham Palace, of course. You know, the typical touristy stuff that would be a sin to neglect seeing.
And then began our self-guided Harry Potter tour of London. If you haven't read the HP series or at least seen the movies, first, shame on you, and second, bear with me while I share just how much of a geek I can be. First, we headed to Cecil Street, which is rumored to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley:
One of the stores on this street actually sells Gringott's money. There's also a couple of book stores and a place called the Witch's Ball. After a brief stop there, we headed to, where else, the entrance to the ministry of magic from the HP movies...
Though in the movies they dragged a red London phone booth to right about the location I'm standing. We'd had enough walking for the day at this point so we searched for a place to eat, and called it a night.
But the next day we were back at it! After spending the morning at the Tower of London (I'll come back to this later in the post) we hit up Leadenhall Market, where the actual Diagon Alley was filmed for the movies:
And of course, hopped on the tube to King's Cross Station, which the movies show as this building:
Though that's actually St. Pancras station in real life, just across the street from King's Cross Station. Inside King's Cross we visited Platform 9 3/4 for a photo opp:
And with that, we called the Harry Potter self-guided tour of London a success. I'd also like to point out that I'm totally jealous that Sean had the idea to hold his coat so it looked as if he was really running through the wall, and I did not.
So back to what we did the morning of our last day in London. First, we made our way to the historic, original, Liberty of London, another request of mine.
Let's just say I was in heaven.
And Sean had fun wondering just how much inventory in U.S. dollars might be in that massive store (Liberty is NOT cheap... not a single product)
Obviously they carry more than just fabric- housewares, clothes, other crafting supplies, paper goods, accessories, etc. But you know where my interests lie. I managed to purchase a small pin cushion jar full of buttons, and some art to remember our trip by that I'll be sure to share once I finally hang it up in our house!
Then we made our way to the Tower of London. Sean really loved this tour. I thought if it weren't for the tour guide, I probably would have wanted a refund. (It's expensive!) But the tour guide was great, comical, and dressed as a Beefeater:
But that's honestly not a costume. They're really referred to as Yeoman Warders (Beefeater is a nickname) and they actually live on the Tower grounds. In order to become a Yeoman Warder guide, they are required to have served in the armed forces for at least 22 years.
There's probably five of them in one tiny room (though five is really enough, how did they dream those things up!?) and it takes 5 minutes to see them all. I also was under the impression that torture was the Tower's claim to fame, but in fact, there were less than 100 tortures, and only seven deaths, executed there in all its hundreds of years of operation. It was primarily a royal palace and fortress.
So after the tower we finished our Harry Potter tour, headed to Olympic Park and decided to get ice cream for our last dinner abroad. We stopped at Green Park as we headed back to our hotel to enjoy the last few moments of British daylight and rest our aching feet...
And the next morning, we hopped on over to Heathrow to head back to the good old USA.