Cheery, polite, organized London exceeded our expectations. We had never been to this most interesting of cities and our introduction made us realize that a three day stop-over is hardly sufficient to become acquainted.
The London in our mind revolved around literature. We knew the city through books— Harry Potter, Paddington Bear, The Chronicles of Narnia, Mary Poppins, Dickens, Shakespeare, and Kipling. We also were familiar with scenes from the royal weddings. Di, Kate & Meghan made London appear a glamorous stage.
Our experience exploring the city confirmed these literary and royal impressions. The people and places we encountered further enhanced our understanding.
We normally do a lot of preparation before we visit a city, especially one in a different country. On this occasion, however, we operated with spontaneity. Originally scheduled to fly to Morocco, I changed my mind last minute and switched our plans at the airport to London! I know, these are two such different places, but for some reason it just felt right. And so our unscheduled visit did not have a pre-planned itinerary. We found many of the people in and around the city willing to answer our questions and help us orient ourselves quickly.
Taxi drivers told us stories, the concierge briefed us on times and highlights, fellow travelers let us in on their discoveries and the local Londoner pointed us in the right direction when we were lost.
We visited Windsor, but missed the opportunity to enter the castle as they closed early to prepare for the anniversary of the Queen’s ascension to the throne. This unfortunate incident had nothing to do with our spontaneous planning. The Queen simply decided, last minute, to change the operating hours of the castle. At first I was miffed! But then I realized, hey, she does own her house, doesn't she? I guess she gets to decide when the public can visit and when they must stay out!
We saw the exhibit of Princess Diana’s clothes at Kensington. We ate food in restaurants where young professionals just off of work enjoyed their beer and cheered on the World Cup teams. We visited the Tate and enjoyed Picasso and the bird’s eye view of the city from their 10th floor wrap-around porch. We attempted the Chelsea Physic Garden but didn’t realize that it closed on Saturdays. We had high tea at the best tea spot in London, Brown’s Hotel, and my husband watched the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham.
My daughter hoped to squeeze in as much Harry Potter activities as we could. The Warner Brothers Studio tour, where visitors get to see the props and backdrops from the movies, was top priority on her list. Had we actually pre-planned for our visit this would have been possible. Our last minute concierge effort to get into this extremely popular option was only available at a cost of 900 GBP. No thanks.
Instead we found the most interesting way to quench her HP love. We taxied and walked around London and found locations in the city where filmmakers had shot different scenes. It was all possible through this little map that we bought in a convenience store which highlights the main Harry Potter filming locations. I wish I still had it, Look for it when you are there!
Of course, we also stopped by platform 9 3/4. This family photo was well worth the 1.5 hours of waiting in line. While waiting my daughter had a chance to fraternize with other HP fans. J.K. Rowling bred a generation of true, loyal book lovers. These people were fantastically and fanatically fun.
We look forward to returning to London again in the near future. I will do much more planning the next go-around so that I can hit other highlights. This last-minute visit was a great introduction!