London Blog

| August 1, 2014

During the last weekend of May, we headed to London for a few days. The lowdown… For this particular trip, I decided to splurge on a room with a view. The Marriott County Hall sits caddy-corner Big Ben, just across the river Thames. I reserved an executive Big Ben suite. When we crossed the bridge, just the sight of the hotel and the London Eye confirmed that I’d chosen well. county hall and london eye We arrived quite early, so we checked our bags and began wandering the city. After grabbing a much-sought-after bite to eat, we hopped onto a hop-on-hop-off bus for an excruciatingly long stop-halt-stop-halt circuit through the congested city of London.  Since the hop-on-hop-off buses head in only one direction–and slowly–it’s not easy to use them as transportation.  You can’t get on at your hotel, go a few stops, then expect to use it to get back without circling the entire city.  Slooooowwwly. We returned to the hotel in the afternoon to check in. The big surprise? The hotel mistook us for honeymooners and upgraded us from a regular Big Ben suite to a balcony suite. You could practically jump onto the London Eye from our balcony. Meanwhile, Sequoia was quite pleased with the towel swans and pile of rose petals. big ben london view We had awesome plans for the evening: to reunite with the couple who celebrated in our Alaskan wedding cruise, acting as our best man and maid of honor in a ceremony of strangers over 11 years ago. It proved to be just as raucous an evening as all those night on the ship, this time with a collective three children in tow. Young Gregory, not a budding photographer, took a photograph of the four of us, then we took the gratuitous selfie before parting ways.



...and Now

…and Now

Biggest change in 12 years: the afro Paul decided to cultivate. On Day two, we again wandered London. I ate a traditional breakfast at Pickles, where they were stocking up for lunch.  I also bought a yummy caramel bar of some sort, for dessert.  Meanwhile, I discussed how honest the Brits are about their food: ‘chicken salad’ and ‘egg salad’ are known as ‘chicken mayo’ and ‘egg mayo’. Know why? ‘Cuz it’s fucking chicken, and mayo. Not salad. Own it. pickles deli Next we headed toward the tourist sights. We were thinking about checking out the changing of the guard, but everything we read and heard about what time it happened that day was conflicting. We were therefore an hour early with no desire to stand at a gate for an hour, particularly since I was listening to a teenage boy drone on about how a guard who doesn’t move is more of a soldier than military personnel in giant tanks.  Meanwhile, he was standing in line to watch the guards: move. I’d read in passing of a nice children’s park along the Princess Diana Memorial Walk, so we headed into the gardens. Unfortunately, my ability to translate how far something appears between my two fingers on a map and how far it is on foot meant that I had no idea that the walk was a seven-mile loop and the playground was at the very back of Kensington Garden  I will say that while it was a nice playground, I would not recommend coming in from the wrong end of the garden and taking such a long trek to get there.  It’s not THAT great.IMG_9899princess di memorialkensington gardenskensington gardens We had just enough time to hop on the bus to find lunch and then make our way to the Tower of London. While there, we had just enough time to stand in an inordinately long line to view the Crown Jewels.

tower of london collage

From the tower, we hopped onto the boat included in the hop-on-hop-off bus package, and rode it to the dock right by our hotel. IMG_9994 After a night of enjoying our view some more,

london balcony collage

we awoke to an uncharacteristically sunny day! IMG_0185 We spent that day doing something incredibly exciting for Sequoia: visiting Harry Potter Studios. We had bought tickets through the studio directly, but I booked transportation-only on a Harry Potter bus (double decker, not triple). After Sequoia placed her hands in Harry, Ron and Hermione’s handprints, hermione's handprints   we awaited our start time by browsing in the gift shop.  There, we took souvenir photos of ourselves in Wanted posters.  The photographer advised us that once we finished the tour, we could bring our photo card back to him, with all of our later souvenir photos, and purchase them at the gift shop counter.  He said that it would be faster than doing it inside at the counter directly following the green screen attraction.  I was glad I listened, as we did not have to wait in the long line and eat up time we could be taking to enjoy the tour.

harry potter wanted poster collage

Once we were let into the studio tour, Sequoia, whose birthday was the next day, enjoyed the honor of opening the doors to the Great Hall!

harry potter great hall Inside the Great Hall stood original costumes for all the main characters of the movie.

Harry Potter costume collage

Leaving the Great Hall, we entered areas filled with props. Areas represented the Ministry of Magic, the boys’ dormitory, the potions classroom, Dumbledore’s office, and many other rooms, characters, and scenes.  While in this section, a Deatheater made Sequoia nervous.

HP studios collage

Sequoia carried around a passport and stamped it at certain stations on the tour. The raised seals were fitting to the areas in which the stamp podium stood.  It’s a fantastic souvenir (and free!).

harry potter toursharry potter tours One of the most fun rooms was a green scene attraction, where we could all pose on Quidditch brooms and in Ron’s car, not only for photos but also videos of our adventures.


In the backlot, we visited Privet Drive, the Knight’s bus, and Ron’s car, then drank


HP studio tour collage 2

butter beer, IMG_0068 then crossed the bridge to Hogwarts. harry potter toursIMG_0092 After passing through more props, harry potter tours we visited the most awe-inspiring exhibit: the model of Hogwarts. I refuse to post a picture because you need to see it to appreciate it. No photo could possibly do it justice. After a visit to the gift shop, we headed back. I wrote a more informative article about the Harry Potter Studios tour for Germany Ja!.  Quick note about taking the transportation-only bus: if your time is on the half hour and the online order form forces you to choose a start time on the hour, do not choose too early.  The return time on your ticket will be too soon, not allowing you to spend as much time in the exhibits.  Because we’d done this, we missed our bus.  However, as the tour got underway, we knew that was going to happen and we risked them not having space on the next bus, rather than worry about it and rush through the tour.  Fortunately, there was room! Once we arrived back in London proper, we took an iconic taxi back to the hotel. london taxi cab The next day was Sequoia’s birthday. She had already chosen her gifts: Fawkes (to go with her Hedwig) and the Marauder’s Map. After a small birthday cake surprise, we rode the London Eye. It gave us the perfect view of our balcony suite. Note: “Sequoia, look at the camera” is interpreted by Sequoia as “Pick your nose”. IMG_0618 We later visited Harrod’s in order to make ourselves feel poor.  While at Harrod’s, we grabbed pizza and risotto at an excellent, pricey eatery.  Paul called it one of the best pizzas he’s ever eaten.  Good thing, for what it cost!

Sequoia and I later stood in an iconic phone booth. It smelled like piss. london phone booth

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Category: England/United Kingdom, Europe, Family Travel, In Germany A Broad blog, Photo Gallery, Travel

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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