Thursday, October 11, 2012

London Town

On Friday, we took a trip to London for the Harry Potter Studio Tour (fair warning, this post isn't actually going to talk about Harry Potter--you'll have to wait a few days for that one. Don't say I didn't warn you.) Anyway, contrary to most people's belief based on how people talk about the Harry Potter Studio Tour, it isn't actually in central London. Leavesden Studio is actually located in Watford, a little less than 20 miles outside of central London.

We decided to spend some time in London before we went to our tour. We arrived at London Paddington at 10:30am with the knowledge that we would need to be at London Euston to catch our train to Watford Junction (for the Harry Potter tour) at 1:30. With three hours to eat lunch and make our way to London Euston (a 45 minute walk) we decided to explore the area on foot for a while. There really isn't much near London Paddington Station (annoyingly, since it is the station that the train from England comes into) but one big attraction is nearby--Hyde Park. Now, why we decided, on a day when we were going to have to walk 2.5 miles through London from one rail station to another, to go to a park that whose main appeal is walking I'm not entirely sure. I mean, it was extremely enjoyable, but it was like walking on walking on walking.

Anyway, we entered Hyde Park at the Victoria Gate, with absolutely no idea about where in Hyde Park we should go and how to get there. I'm going to be honest with you, I kind of thought we'd walk into Hyde and it would be really obvious where we should go and what we should see. I guess I never thought about the fact that Hyde Park is just that--a park and that means it is large and filled with grassy lawns and walking paths.

And while I'm being real, I'll just admit that my first glance at Hyde Park was not impressive at all. I couldn't help be think "We walked all the way here, for this?" This is because we entered at a car entrance so basically all I could see was roads and a few small walking paths. Add to that the fact that what grass there was was basically just mud. There were workers trying to get rid of the mud, but it wasn't really working too well. I don't know this for sure, but I think these workers were still doing damage control from the 2012 London Olympics and that this mud was a result of increased foot traffic from the live viewing site at Hyde Park.

As we continued to walk, however, I began to appreciate Hyde Park more and more. We decided to walk down to the Serpentine River and then back up through Kensington Gardens to the Italian Garden Fountain. Once away from the car traffic, Hyde Park really is a great refuse from the city. Replacing the cars, loud forceful words and general bustle of the city is the serenity of nature. I know this sounds incredibly cheesy and cliche, but I truly do believe every word I write of it. I find it so intriguing to be in the middle of a city, surrounded by streets and traffic but to be able to escape from it by walking only a matter of minutes into a Royal Park.

When we finally got down to the Serpentine Lake, I realized that the walk was definitly worth it. I felt like I was in a fairy tale, or Disney World or something like that. Standing there, looking out at the water, I could hear the faint sounds of people ordering drinks at a small shop nearby, the whizzing of people riding by on a bike and the general mutterings of those around me. It was, surprisingly, a very sunny day and the sun was reflecting off the water, shimmering and sparkling. Ducks and swans floated past and I just felt... calm. This has become a trend in my blogging I find, pointing out how calm I feel in different places I visit. But I think that's because being in England I am just trying to see everything I can and things still feel foreign, so when I find a place I feel truly calm and serene, I like to pause and let it soak in.

We then walked through Kensington Gardens to get to the Italian Garden. The Italian Garden was beautiful not just because of the physical beauty (which was bountiful, with fountains and white stone) but also the meaning behind the garden. Prince Albert had it constructed for Queen Victoria as a testament to their love.  My friend Austin and I decided that this would be perfect place to be proposed to. Or married. Or both. Or, I don't know, just having a bench dedicated there in my honor. Anything having to do with this garden would be considered romantic.

After Hyde Park, we started the rather long trek to the London Euston station. We did, however, stop off to visit The World's Most Famous Address. No, not Downing Street, 221b Baker Street. I was really excited about visit Sherlock Holmes's fictional address because I find the Sherlock Holmes stories fascinating. When you think about how popular crime dramas and crime novels are today, you have to realize how ahead of his time Arthur Conan Doyle was. Although the Sherlock Holmes Museum claim the address 221b Baker, it's actually located around 235 Baker Street. However, 221 did not exist when Doyle wrote about it, and the actual 221b is an office space so the fake 221b is about as close as we'll get.

Although there is a museum there, we didn't have time to go in, but there was a gift shop (shocker) where they sold all kinds of Sherlock related things. Can't miss an opportunity to capitalize on someone else's genius, right?  I purchased a button for my bag. They also had these business card with a map to the museum on the back, but the front looked like an actual Sherlock Holmes business card. This was a really cool (and free) souvenir.

It was then off to lunch and then the train station to the Harry Potter Studio Tour. We found the station without any troubles and got the tour on time. After the tour we took the train back to London, had lunch in the train station (Burger King, actually) and then set off to figure out how to take the tube back to London Paddington. Now, Euston and Paddington are connected, but in a really roundabout way (going all the way around Zone 1 even though they're only about 2.5 miles apart) making the journey 40 minutes.

To avoid this time waster, we decided to discover how best to get to Paddington by switching lines at another tube station. We found a route we thought would work and went to purchase tickets. Of course the ticket machines we go to don't accept our American debit/cards and don't take cash, so we have to wait in line to buy tickets from a ticket window. As annoying as it seemed, it was actually a blessing in disguise. The very nice woman behind the counter showed us the proper way to get to Paddington which was good because something tells me our route wouldn't have worked out too well. And her route got us to Paddington in more than enough time to catch the train we wanted to take so this was an instance in which it was good we didn't decide to be super independent and figure it out on our own.

 I think this is where most people's confusion/frustration with the Tube comes from--they try to figure things out on their own while at the same time are unable to understand the symbols or traffic patterns. In the end, it's just easier to stop and ask for help every once in a while. I do have one major bone to pick with the Tube--£4.30 for a single trip only 2 miles away? Really? On the DC metro I can get from outside the city into the heart of DC for less than that. With a fixed rate, I guess Tube travel is best for longer distances to make your money worth it, or if you have an Oyster card. We know that now, and will adjust accordingly for the future. We got back to our flat by 10pm exhausted from an awesome day in London. Below are some more pictures from my time in London:

And check back soon for my post about the Harry Potter Studio Tour!

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