On our first night in London, Leigh and I arrived late in the evening at King’s Cross St. Pancras Station. We bought one-way tickets into the city, but before leaving the station we headed towards Platform 8 to see Platform 9 3/4. In the Harry Potter books, Platform 9 3/4 (the magical portal students run through to get to the Hogwarts Express) is camouflaged as the wall between Platforms 9 and 10. In reality however, Platforms 9 and 10 are not actually next to each other at all – J.K. Rowling misremembered the platform numbering. Instead, the station staff erected a fake platform as close as they could to the real thing (right next to Platform 8). When we got there on the evening of August 2nd, Leigh immediately texted her sister to make her jealous, but then we moved on to the more pressing issue of getting some more touristy photos. There was already a group of girls taking photos on top of the luggage trolley half-lodged in the wall, but fortunately we managed to squeeze our way in and snap a couple quick shots. Unfortunately however, we definitely ruled out the possibility that we’re wizards. I think this saddened me far more than it saddened Leigh since she has never read the book (blasphemous!).
After Platform 9 3/4 we headed out of King’s Cross, into the Tube and towards our destination at Tottenham Court Road Station. When we eventually got to our hostel we were overjoyed to find we didn’t have any roommates (!!!), but also fascinated to find a random shower in the middle of our room (?). We went to bed exhausted. I couldn’t wait to show Leigh the London I’d grown to love over the past few months of my internship.
On our first real day in London, I woke up especially early because my phone clock had failed to change timezones appropriately… thus, we were forced to hang around for a while before breakfast. Afterwards we headed out to Green Park and I took Leigh to see Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria Memorial. We took lots of touristy photos hanging off the gates in front of the palace and even more photos of the gates/palace/memorial in the beautiful summer sun (yes, I took even more photos). Afterwards we walked back through Green Park to see Westminster, Big Ben, Portcullis House, Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament. (Yes, we saw ALL of those in quick succession in one morning.) I hope Leigh was satisfied because, let’s face it – we really just wanted to go shopping.
From the Houses of Parliament we walked across the Thames to the London Eye, a tourist trap I had been avoiding all summer but which we decided was worth the price if only for the experience. As it turned out I was really happy we decided to ride it, because we got some spectacular aerial views of London and had some great laughs at the ridiculous Jack The Ripper ad campaign for a museum exhibition going on at the time. On a more serious note however, the Eye was pretty amazing – while it moves surprisingly fast for such a huge contraption, you can’t feel the movement at all once you enter the room-sized glass cabins. It’s a pretty spectacular example of modern engineering, though I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I was inside some sort of giant cosmic fishbowl.
After our ride on the Eye we took the tube to Trafalgar Square and then to Oxford Street, where we ate some great traditional pub fare at The Three Tuns. Leigh got a popular summer drink made with Pimms (a fruit-flavored liqueur mixed with other yummy ingredients), I ordered a Strongbow (duh), and we enjoyed some awesome roasts and Yorkshire pudding (which I had somehow missed out on throughout my entire summer!). As if we hadn’t already done enough that morning, we moved on from there to a heavy afternoon of shopping at Primark, H&M, and Marks & Spencer, where we spent a good chunk of our hard-saved money on a big pile of clothes which we had a very hard time fitting back into our backpacks a few days later as we prepared to leave.
As if we hadn’t been busy enough that day, in the evening we gathered up our purchases and grabbed the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) to Greenwich with the intention of seeing the Prime Meridian and the International Date Line. On the way there we stopped outside a pub called The Admiral Hardy, since Leigh was clearly related to the Admiral and needed a picture to prove it. Once in Greenwich we walked up the huge hill to the Royal Observatory (which possibly felt worse than it was because we were weighted down with shopping bags) and toured the museum, where we learned that the Observatory was commissioned in 1675 and was the first purpose-built scientific research facility in Britain (!). The Royal Observatory also houses the Prime Meridian (0° longitude) and the International Date Line (the place from which Greenwich Mean Time is calculated and time zones are set throughout the world). The coolest thing about the experience was that we were able to stand over the 0° line and literally be in two timezones at once! Total geek-out, totally awesome. We took more touristy photos and generally admired the panoramic view from atop the hill, where we saw the sun set over the river Thames. When we finally got back to London that night we stopped at a Mexican restaurant for dinner, and Leigh ordered a cheeseburger (don’t ask me why it was on the menu). Eventually we FINALLY returned to our hostel, put down our shopping bags, and collapsed in our beds after a thoroughly spectacular whirlwind day.
Our second day in London – and the last day of our trip! – was gray and rainy, and basically consisted of visiting the Tower of London (another famous attraction I had failed to see). We went on a tour of the grounds with a Yeomen Warder (aka a Beefeater), who are the ceremonial guards of the Tower of London. Along the way we got to see the crown jewels and the White Tower, where Henry VIII imprisoned his wives before beheading them. Probably my favorite part of the experience was the collection of rather silly historical artifacts in the Tower museum, including the world’s tallest and shortest suits of armor, Henry VIII’s actual armor, a helmet simulation game where you stick your head in a hole in the wall, and a game that looked like 17th century whack-a-mole (where you got to joust against an opponent in a big, ancient-looking arcade game). We even bought some silly souvenirs in the gift shop, such as a CD compilation of “Music For Feasting” and “Wives of Henry VIII” chocolate squares (one square for every wife!). Raaahh-diculous.
As we left the Tower a rainstorm forced us to take a spontaneous trip to the British Museum, which actually ended up as lunch at Garfunkel’s restaurant. Feeling a little low from the weather, we went back to the hostel to nap, spent some time on the internet, and ended up going to bed early. We were both headed back to the States the next day!
Leigh left at 5AM on the morning of August 5th, and I was out of our hostel room by 10. I dropped my backpack off at Victoria Station then went shopping on Oxford Street and ate lunch right outside of Hyde Park, where I watched some adorable children mercilessly annoying the pigeons. I also saw Inception at an Odeon cinema, and wasn’t very impressed… perhaps my expectations at the time were too high. Or maybe I’m just too picky. Or both. Afterwards I headed back to Victoria Station, picked up my bags, and fulfilled my final goal(s) for my trip: buying all of the foreign candy bars I could find and eating them as I sat in the airport and held the latest issue of The Economist. I meant to actually read it, but… the chocolate was a little distracting. I spent 12+ hours waiting for my flight at Heathrow (I didn’t want to pay for another hostel!), then finally I was headed home! It was a surreal end to a truly fantastic trip.