In Sweeney Todd, the title character sings, “There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit, / And the vermin of the world inhabit it, / And its morals aren’t worth what a pig could spit, / And it goes by the name of London.” Now, I didn’t meet everyone there, but I can say from personal experience that there are some wonderful people in London, not to mention the awe-inspiring places. I spent a whirlwind two and a half days in London, exploring the city, visiting historical places, and taking in as many Harry Potter themed things as possible.
Our first stop was the Tower of London, where we arrived about an hour and a half
before closing time. We knew we wouldn’t be able to see everything, but our main goal was to see the crown jewels, and everything else was a bonus. The tower itself was majestic. Despite visiting on Halloween and the number of beheadings that took place there, it wasn’t too eerie. I found it to be a nice expanse of land, and I enjoyed exploring a place where so many people had lived, worked, and, well, died. The crown jewels were extravagant, as expected, but also beautiful. It was interesting to learn about all of the different parts of a coronation. For example, the coronation spoon! A spoon, of all things. That is used to put the oil on the monarch during the ceremony. And then ther was a punch bowl in which several babies could have bathed comfortably, which is used for the after party. I’m fairly certain there is a more technical—and probably regal—name for it, but it is essentially an after party. The crowns and scepters and swords were all there, too, and it is amazing to think about all of the lives those objects have changed. In my lifetime, I will probably see them in use, so it’s really neat to have seen them (relatively) up close. The whole idea of being a monarch—so much in the public eye and everything—is very, well, foreign to me, but I have to wonder if any of them casually visit the crown jewels and just think about things.
As the tower was getting ready to close, we went out front and met up with my friend Lauren, who is studying at Royal Holloway in Egham, just outside of London, for the semester (You can read about her adventures here: http://lkfiction.wordpress.com/). We walked across Tower Bridge and along the river for a bit before finding dinnar at Covent Garden, which is already getting ready for the holidays—giant tree ornaments and everything. After some more wandering around, Tina and I headed back to our hostel to get some rest, as we knew we had two full days ahead.
Our main goal for Thursday morning was to obtain tickets to a show for that evening. We didn’t really care which one, but our initial plan was standby tickets for The Lion King. That was revised after discovering the box office hours (opening later than we would have liked) and that Matthew Lewis, who is most often known as the actor who played Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter movies, was performing in a play called “Our Boys.” We purchased our tickets at Leicaster Square, and I gave my 6-stamp reward card (with the two stamps from our tickets on it) to the woman in line behind us, for which I received a hug. Just one of the many lovely people in London!
Our next stop was the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, which wasn’t horribly exciting, but a good experience. It’s not a thing to do if you don’t like crowds or are short on patience, as it is highly populated and a rather long process with lots of waiting around, but it was neat to see—and a good place to people watch. We did see the Queen leave the palace in a car, so that was a bonus—so many bonuses in London! By the time that whole process was finished, we were ready for lunch, which we found at SFC, kind of a British version of KFC. I believe the S here stands for “Sutton,” but I’m not positive on that one. Regardless, it was good and gave us the energy to tackle the afternoon.
We continued on to Westminster Abbey, location of royal coronations, weddings, and the
final resting place for many. I didn’t really have any expectations here, so it wasn’t hard to exceed them, but Westminster is the kind of place where you could be perfectly content to sit and look at the ceiling for a solid hour—never mind the rest of the place. You weren’t supposed to take pictures, but I snuck a few anyway. Doesn’t that ceiling look like lace? After visiting the graves of all levels of royalty (again, do they have special hours where current royalty can come visit relatives without being surrounded by tourists?), we reached my favorite part, the Poet’s Corner. Many, many British writers are buried
at Westminster—and for the “important” ones who aren’t, there is a memorial wall for them. Chaucer was the first buried there to start the tradition, but T.S. Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll…Britain is such a rich literary country! I wonder if J.K. Rowling’s plot there has already been reserved, or if they’ve stopped doing that…
Our show was at 7:45, so we headed back to the hostel to change after the Abbey, making a quick detour to the British Museum first. We picked up dinner on the way back and arrived at the theatre exceedingly early in all of our excitement. Matthew Lewis may have been the reason
we picked “Our Boys” over the other options the West End had to offer, but it was a really enjoyable show. Actually a revival of a show written in 1993, “Our Boys” is set in the hospital room of four British soldiers in 1984. Two other residents of the ward—other injured soldiers—visit regularly, which brings the number of amazing cast members up to six. “Our Boys” is a heart-wrenching critique of the military at some moments, but also belly-achingly funny. It’s about friendship, trust, and what it means to really “be in it together.” Between the writing and the staging and the acting, it was well executed, which made for both an enjoyable and thought-provoking performance. Afterwards, we were fortunate enough to meet the cast. They were all gracious and appreciative and happy to sign my ticket for me, which I appreciated.
I don’t think the shock of that experience has quite
worn off even now, but our London adventure continued anyway. Friday morning, we visited the Charles Dickens Museum. It is currently under construction, so mostly what I saw was scaffolding, but I went anyway. After that, it was King’s Cross and St. Pancras Stations, both locations for the filming of Harry Potter. 221B Baker Street, the address of (the fictional) Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, was our next stop, followed by a lovely stroll through Regent’s Park.
After that, Tina and I split ways for a bit. I took a very brief tour of the Science Museum before heading to the Globe while she spent more time there. Despite being a reconstruction and not quite on the original site, standing in The Globe was one of my
favorite parts of the trip. (Granted, I had quite a few favorite moments, but this was very special.) I’ve learned a good deal about Shakespeare and his theatre over the years, but nothing compares to actually being in the space. It was exactly like all of the pictures and models, but it was so much better. Seeing the perspective, looking at the trapdoors for heaven and hell, and just being in that space alone was worth the trip to London.
Our final destination—in addition to all of the other experiences—put the trip over the
top. Getting there was a little tricky—it involved a train and a shuttle bus—but the Harry Potter Studio Tour was everything I had imagined and more. I particularly enjoyed the way they worked in information about the crew as you went through the exhibit. The making of any movie—or play or musical, for that matter—is always about more than just the actors, and Warner Brothers did an especially nice job showing that to visitors. Everything from props to special effects and hair/makeup was featured at some point, in addition to showing off actual sets and prop pieces. I visited the Leaky Cauldron, saw the boys’ dormitory, took a stroll through the ministry, knocked on the door of Number 4, Privet Drive, and rode on a broomstick in front of a green screen. And that’s just a handful of the things there are to do and see throughout the tour.
The end of the tour takes visitors around the model of Hogwarts, a huge and intricately detailed model used for all of the aerial shots of the castle (any time someone was flying around, panning in and out, etc.). If it were possible to be more than impressed, I was. The final stop of the tour was also one of my favorite rooms—one stacked floor to ceiling with wand boxes, a room that could have been Ollivander’s. Instead of wand descriptions, though, the end of each wand box had the name of one person who worked on the films—over 4,000 in all. It was an incredible monument to all of their hard work and acknowledged everyone.
London was extremely good to us. It only rained during the day once, and that was while we were in Westminster Abbey. Navigation was confusing only a
few times, and the streets kindly reminded me to look out for cars coming from the opposite direction than I am accustomed. So many things about London were wonderful—if I ever get the chance, I’d love to go back!