What's an American girl to do when asked if she wants to spend the long Pfingsten weekend in Paris or London? I'm still not sure completely how we finally decided on London (the fact that they speak English was definitely a nice touch), but I'm glad we did. My host family had already been to both cities before, so they knew enough about each to give me the full experience. After oversleeping a very ambitious departure time of 3:30 AM, we piled into the car shortly before 4:30 AM and started the three and a half hour drive to Calais, France where our ferry to Dover, England awaited us. We drove through the Netherlands and Belgium before arriving in France, which means that I checked off two new countries. Even though we started a little later than expected, we still made it onto the ferry. We were one of the last five cars let on before castoff!
After eating breakfast and checking out the gift shop, we looked out and saw the white cliffs of Dover, my first sight of England. Because we took our car with, we just stopped at the security checkpoint and then continued on the highway, on the left side of the road of course!
Our first priority after getting off the ferry was to drive directly to Leavesden, where our tour of the Warner Bros. Studio took place. All of my host sisters are super big Harry Potter fans, so stopping here was a given.
Our tickets were all different and while waiting in the security line, we figured out which movie all of them were from.
Because there were so many school groups, we waited a little bit before finally being led into a film and then walking through the doors of The Great Hall. A noticeable key component was missing, the ceiling. This absence showed me how far special effects have come and how they transform our nonfictional world into fantasy.
In Dumbledore's office, the walls were lined with portraits. Once I looked closer, I saw that all of the people inside were sleeping!
Throughout the tour, there were several points where you could get your picture taken. This one shows you how they used forced perspective while filming Hagrid to make him seem as big as he does in the movies.
If I remember correctly, The Forbidden Forest was a relatively new exhibit on the tour. Here, we got to see how the trees were built and styled to look so real.
One part that I found extra cool was the train station and Platform 9 3/4. There was a train, the wall where the students run through, and a store. We got to walk inside the train and each compartment was decorated from one of the eight movies.
Yes, I'm aware that this looks nowhere near as convincing as the movies make running through a wall look. It's just something I had to do anyways.
Number four, Privet Drive, awaited us outside. We walked through and saw a woman who was trying vehemently to open the cupboard under the stairs, Harry's former bedroom, but it just wouldn't budge. I guess she didn't see that the set for that room was at the very beginning, by where we stood in line before actually going inside.
One of my favorite parts was Diagon Alley. Here were some of the familiar buildings: Ollivanders, Gringotts, and Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. J.K. Rowling modeled it after places around London that we would see later that weekend.
My actual favorite part was near the end. After coming around the corner, I saw this huge replica of Hogwarts. Although it was bigger than me, it still wasn't even close to life-size. There were digital boards where you could watch it being built and click on different parts of the structure to get more detailed information.
The final room was full of wand boxes. Each box had the name of someone who worked on the movies printed on it. As you can imagine, there were a lot of boxes.
After checking into our hotel and eating dinner, we went to bed so we'd be well-rested to see London's famous landmarks the following day.
Early the next morning, we set out for the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.
After walking across London Bridge, we decided to continue along the river path that multiple bridges ran perpendicular to.
Our first destination was Millennium Bridge and then eventually to make our way towards Big Ben.
We took a break from all the walking around noon. With our iced lemonades, we sat in one of London's famous parks (this is me pretending I didn't forget which one) and people-watched.
After our pause, we got back on the road. Big Ben was everything I thought it would be. That's all I have to say about that!
Next on the agenda was Buckingham Palace. What I can say about the Queen's home is that it is very well protected. Speaking of Queen Elizabeth II, she was apparently home at the time that we visited. We could tell because the Union Jack on the roof was raised.
While looking for a place to eat, we came to Leadenhall Market. This is where parts of Harry Potter were filmed. The colors and style were very interesting and unique. Unfortunately, the restaurants weren't what we were looking for, but I did stop into a souvenir store to buy some Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans.
I have absolutely no clue what this building is, but as we were figuring out where to eat for dinner, we passed it. It's just the sort of building that you see and think "I should take a picture of that".
Is there anything more English than a plate of fish and chips? We found a cute little restaurant in an interesting part of town to take part in this tradition. I passed on the vinegar and had tartar sauce instead and still enjoyed it. I'm still not sure why they call fries "chips?" The British have funny accents and even funnier words.
Along the way, we saw lots of super cool buildings. I don't know what this building is, but one day it was decorated and the next the decorations were gone.
After the longest bus ride I have ever been on, which seemed like it took us through half of London, we called it a night.
My host dad is a huge Beatles fan, and already being in London, we had to make a stop at Abbey Road on our second full day. I'm not going to pretend to know lots about the Beatles besides the fact that I really like their songs "Hey Jude" and "Strawberry Fields Forever". However, it was super cool to see how beloved they still are in this day and age.
Driving down Abbey Road takes lots of patience. Drivers are constantly waiting on all the tourists looking to recapture the iconic photo taken here almost fifty years ago.
Although we weren't allowed to actually enter the studio, there was a gift shop off to the side that we spent quite a lot of time in. I picked up my second t-shirt from London (the first was from Hard Rock Cafe) and some other odds and ends.
Looking for your daily dose of Beatles conspiracy theories? I aim to please.
After our visit to Abbey Road, we stopped at Oxford Street to check out the shopping scene. We realized that we wouldn't be finding much in our price range, so the twins and I took a bus to different shopping streets. On the way, we got to walk through Piccadilly Circus.
Finding something more our style, M&M's World, we searched for souvenirs and gifts for friends and family. I decided on a cup of red, white, and blue M&M's, called something along the lines of "the British Mix", once I discovered that peanut butter M&M's weren't available.
I couldn't get enough of this building. There were tons of little pubs with cool decorations and unique architecture.
While in London I wanted to do some shopping. After checking online for places to shop, I set out alone while the others went to a park.
My goal was to visit Camden Market. I'd like to start out by saying that Camden Market is amazing. It's an indoor/outdoor market where you can buy tons of different foods, souvenirs, and artwork. There's truly something for everyone.
I spent probably a little too long inside, getting lost in the maze of vendors. Some of my findings included a bowl, a new wallet, and a few postcards. Before I joined the group again, I stopped and bought a mini black backpack and two t-shirts at The Camden Market, which was somehow completely different from Camden Market.
We all met up again at Trafalgar Square. There were lots of various entertainers scattered around doing everything from singing to walking on stilts.
This is Britain's smallest police station. Because Trafalgar Square was historically a place where many protests occurred, this station was built in 1926 to keep an eye on the demonstrators.
For dinner, we headed to Chinatown.
We were lucky enough to be seated right before the Hare Krishnas started some sort dance performance. I heard the commotion and decided to go see what the deal was. For a good fifteen minutes, I watched them dance and pull people from the crowd to join in. One of their members was nice enough to spend about five of those minutes explaining everything to me.
Deciding to see London by night, we hopped on the tube. We got off at Temple and then walked across the bridge.
The view from the bridge was stunning. To the right was the London Eye, Big Ben, and The Palace of Westminster.
To the left were a bunch of skyscrapers that I don't know the names of, but they were still aesthetically pleasing.
We wanted our last stop to be Tower Bridge so that we could take pictures when it was all lit up. However, we didn't realize that the walkway that runs alongside The Tower of London would be locked up. We had to settle for pictures taken from the end of the pier.
On Saturday, our last day in England, we checked out of our hotel and drove to Windsor Castle. It's a good thing we had already purchased tickets online, because if we hadn't, we would have been standing in line with hundreds of others before even getting to the security checkpoint.
We weren't allowed to take pictures inside so enjoy a bunch from the outside.
I bought an ice cream cone that tasted amazing and then went and watched the guard until my host family all meandered down. I also spent most of the remainder of my English money in the gift shops.
People live here!
After leaving Windsor Castle, we drove back to Dover to board our ferry back to France. The drive home was really long, and we got home pretty late, but I went to school the next day after having been in five countries over the weekend, all thanks to my amazing host family.