February 2018 London Trip
Oh my goodness, it has been so long since I have written a travel blog, so be patient with me while I attempt to get back into the swing of things. One may think that it is funny that I still consider a trip to London "travel" due to living only 4 hours away. That being said, I have spent the majority of my life living in Iowa. Like, there were cows that I could hear mooing during science class. So, no, if you are wondering, the fact that I live in England has still not completely settled in yet.
When it was announced that The British Library would be holding an exhibition that showcased ancient artifacts that J.K. Rowling used in her research for Harry Potter, I knew it was something that I had to do. You know, once in a lifetime thing, in England (where I now live), focused on history and artifacts, and Harry Potter, at a LIBRARY. It is as if the whole thing was designed for me. The only issue was how I was going to get my husband to take me 4 hours south, especially when looking at ancient artificats about magic is not exactly his idea of a good time. I think after I read the accompanying book and watched the documentary three times, he got the hint, and booked us tickets for the beginning of February. We decided to make a few days out of it and it was just as amazing as every other time I have been to London. Good to know I have 3 upcoming trips there in the next two months!
The first thing we did, and I know that this sounds crazy, is check into our hotel. We have stayed at different hotels all over London, but we decided to go with a new one this time, and it was the BEST decision. If you are looking for a place to stay if you ever visit, Jonathan and I both highly recommend the Premier Inn on the Southbank. In the picture below, the hotel is the building on the left. I mean, what a view, am I right?
Just for reference, I am also going to upload the view from our bedroom.
The reason that we recommend this hotel, is because first of all, Premier Inn is always a good bet. If you aren't from the UK, Premier Inn is a chain hotel that is budget friendly, but they are also always clean and have really friendly staff. The only thing (and I will never understand this) most hotels in England do not have complimentary breakfast. THAT IS THE BEST PART OF STAYING IN A HOTEL. Anyway... The other reason we recommend this (other than the view) is just the location itself. It is right on the Southbank, so if you walk around to the front of the building, you can see Big Ben, the London Eye, and then there is a walkway that follows the Thames pretty much the entire way through London. So, after we dropped off our suitcase, we decided to walk the riverfront until we found a place we wanted to eat. *insert photos of some of the views we happened upon*
Yes, that is right, there is a book market on this walk. However, and yes I know I sound salty, the book selection was quite shocking. Trust me, perusing books under a bridge while gazing at the London Eye is my idea of heaven, but all of the books were either really badly beaten up or just not of interest at all. Like most second-hand book places, it was really only a goldmine if mystery/crime is your genre of choice.
Is it just my Harry Potter obsessed self, or does anyone else just see the dementor attack when they see the Millennium Bridge? I love how this bridge looks, but I don't think I will ever forgive it for twisting my ankle the first time that I visited London. I mean, it might have been my fault because I was running towards the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, but also, cobblestone is dangerous, and people should look into that. In case you don't know what Harry Potter scene I referenced above, I will link it for your enjoyment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mo-U5iOinM8.
Speaking of.... I will never get sick of this place. I saw "As You Like It" here three summers ago and it was incredible. I can't wait to go back someday. Although, I do have to warn you, the seats are ridiculously uncomfortable.
And that is when we ended up at our destination. Nandos. Yummy! This Nandos looked especially cool as well because it was built under a bridge. When I was waiting in line to order, an American couple walked in and were looking aimlessly around trying to figure out what to do. I told them that they sit down and then when they decide what they want, they take their table number and order at the counter. They were super impressed with my knowledge of British restaurants. Call me, beep me, if you want a tour guide next time you're in England. We then decided to just walk to The Museum of London since it wasn't too far away. I swear, if I just travelled all of the time, I would drop weight like it was nobody's business because you walk EVERYWHERE. On the way to the Museum of London, you pass St. Paul's Cathedral, so I took a photo for your viewing pleasure.
How beautiful is that building? The only thing is that it costs a fortune to go inside and tour it. I remember being really bummed out about that the first time that I went to London. Most cathedrals in Europe are free or require just a small donation, but St. Paul's has to be all fancy shmancy. My suggestion is to go for a service sometime. I have to warn you that it is really hard to hear anything clearly inside of the echoey dome, but it's worth it to see inside. Once we passed St. Paul's, the Museum of London was clearly in sight. Just another little tip for you. In order for you to go inside, you have to use the weird looking elevator or escalator across the street from it. Yes it's sketchy. Yes it's worth it. While the exterior doesn't seem amazing, I promise you'll be impressed with all of the goods inside.
Some little factoids about this place. First of all um.... it's free.
Second of all there is artifacts from London's history since the beginning of time until now.
Third of all, it's free.
Jonathan and I made a donation because we love that the museums are able to be doing what they are doing without forcing visitors to pay. Especially all of the little kiddos. The place was jam-packed with kids and they have to many activities everywhere to get the kids invested. It's amazing. It was such an active museum. There were lectures happening, and we came on a suffragette day. The UK is celebrating 100 years of women's voting this year, so there were fake arrests and little parades, etc. celebrating women. I LOVED it.
My favourite time-period, you might have guessed, was Medieval London. There were films going on, weaponry on display, and language games (which I totally rocked- heck yeah Old English). Even though the place is packed full of people, there is enough room to wander around, and you don't feel like you are fighting bodies to read the signs. It's the perfect space.
This was also really cool. This little doll was Queen Victoria's when she was younger. HOW COOL IS THAT? I will never understand why people think history and museums are boring. Queen Victoria, yes, the one you have heard about in school, used to pick up that doll in her little hands and play with it. That exact doll. Is that not cool?! Are you not amazed?!
To finish off Musuem of London pictures, I will end on this. There was an entire prison cell that was recovered from the 1700's. The prisoners that used to stay in it were there because they could not pay off a debt. The carvings on it were incredible. It's just amazing to me that those names you can read were carved on there by real people almost 300 years ago.
That evening, we walked along the bank again when it was dark. It was actually more magical to do it then because of how the city lights up at night. We travelled by tube to the O2 for some dinner at Pizza Express and saw a film at the cinema. It was really nice to have a little date night in the heart of London. By the end of the night we were totally exhausted and fell into a heavy sleep after attempting to watch part of the Superbowl on TV. If you don't feel like you could fall into a years-long sleep at the end of a day of travel, then you are doing it wrong.
I SHALL TAKE THIS INTERLUDE BETWEEN THE TWO DAYS TO TELL YOU ABOUT THE UNDERGROUND. Let me tell you why the Underground is amazing. London is a big city, and the underground is fast.... do you see where I am going with this? You can get everywhere that you need to go in such a fast time. It's not too hard to figure out the system (although I am nowhere near Jonathan's expertise because he literally has the entire map memorized). And it's just a part of London culture. Have you really been to London if you haven't been warned to "Mind the gap between the train and the platform"? Have you really been to London if you haven't been squeezed into a train during rush hour? Have you really been to London if you don't have black gunk in your nose because you are travelling in a contraption underground with the windows open? The answer is no.
Charing Cross station has amazing Medieval artwork on the walls. Also you can see the sign that points to all of the popular destinations. Useful and beautiful.
I also thought that I would share what it looks like inside in case you ever wondered. Obviously it's not usually this empty. In fact it never is, hence why the picture was taken in the first place, but yeah. It's just like an outdated waiting room on wheels, really. My favourite part about the underground during rush hour is that every other person has a book out. I LOVE IT. Reading on commutes is hopefully a trend that will be around forever. I feel like it's such a good place to get book recommendations as well.
And back to regular programming.
The next day, we started off the morning at the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I think Jonathan felt bad for me because I have been to London like five times and still haven't seen it. Let me tell you, it's definitely worth going, but there are some things you should know first. 1.) Do your research. They don't do the changing of the guard every day, so check dates and times before just showing up and hoping something will happen. 2.) Don't listen to the police officers that tell you to go across the street because the view is just as good. Half of the thing is behind the gates in front of the palace. There is even a concert. And as you can see from my photo, we were too far away to see any of that. 3.) Bring proper attire and an umbrella. I was freezing and it started to rain and I hated myself for not being prepared. 4.) Get there at least an hour early because people like to go above and beyond and you don't want to be stuck behind a really tall Spaniard that completely ignores your body language when you are trying to lean around them to take a picture.
Next, we decided to head to the British Library early and get a snack at the little cafe outside. Let me tell you... first of all the lady inside pretty much disciplined me as harshly as a stranger could when I accidentally asked for a "glass of tea" instead of a "cup of tea". I am sorry, okay, I am still learning the British way. And secondly, the granola/yogurt cup was 100% not granola and 100% birdseed. So, all in all, I would not recommend. But, their brownie was really fudgy if you do happen to find yourself there. Then we walked inside the library and there was Harry Potter stuff everywhere and I freaked out.
I think when I walked in and saw the banners, I stopped dead in the middle of the lobby and was like "sorry, sorry, I see Hufflepuff. Excuse me ma'am, i'm terribly sorry, there is just a Hufflepuff banner and I can't breathe. No sir, I am aware that I am in the way, but is this Hogwarts or just heaven?" Word of advice, though, there is some pretty intense security, so be aware of that.
Now, the actual exhibit itself.... Oh I hate to do this, but it was just okay. That actually pained me to write. Here is the thing, the artifacts were incredible, the decorations and atmosphere were superb, but.... It was SO crowded. It was like nothing i've ever seen before. The only thing close that I can think of comparing it to is the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam at peak tourist time. You just scuffled in the line behind everyone else and people were taking their own sweet time let me tell you. I get it. You can't take pictures or anything in there, so you are trying to soak it all up, enjoying seeing handwritten notes from J.K. Rowling, analyzing illustrations on ancient Chinese fortune telling bones, etc. but I really don't think that it takes 6 minutes per piece. I am not exaggerating. I would look at the artifact, read the little plaque about it, look at the artifact in detail again, tap my foot for 4.5 minutes, and then slowly shuffle along to the next piece. Plus, there were so many pretentious people in there, oofta. There was this game where you could mix a potion and there was an elderly couple that was giving it a go (completely new to touch technology) and this middle-aged, couch surfing, self-important idiot comes up to them and starts telling them everything they were doing wrong. Like... you're not a wizard sir, please back up. I let the lady do it on my machine and she was just excited to put fly wings in the cauldron. I never thought that I would be "that" person, but I actually got out of line and pushed myself back into it when I saw something that I really wanted to see. I think 45 minutes in and Jonathan and I were pretty much ready to go. It was so frustrating because you just couldn't enjoy any of it. So, if you are feeling bad about missing out on the exhibiting, I recommend picking up the book because it's so much more pleasurable to just learn about it from the comfort of your own uncrowded hom.
One thing that I really did enjoy, though, was there regular exhibit. Once again, I couldn't take pictures, but there was entries from Jane Austen's journal, a signed first edition of Paradise Lost, letters from Queen Victoria, ancient religious documents. It was incredible. I would highly recommend going for just that if you are a literary enthusiast, plus entry into that was free unlike Harry Potter.
We passed St. Pancras on the way to the library! Such an incredible building and it makes me think of Harry Potter too!
Our final stop in London was for some laid back shopping. We went to the area around Oxford Street because they have pretty much everything you could ever want there. We ended up going to Hamley's to check out some of the toys there, eating dinner at Five Guys, and then walking to the multi-story Foyles for some book shopping. I wish that I had more time at Foyles because I only had time to check out two of the floors. Such a neat place!
Finally, we headed back to the hotel to get our luggage and then onto the train station for our evening journey home. It was a magnificent two days full of history, architecture, culture, exhibits, everything. London is such a rich city and I can't wait to see what future visits hold.