OK, so it’s time for a fun post entry. This past weekend was pretty much an epic adventure from start to finish. Yes, that word is overused on a daily basis, but this time it fits. Back in July, our friend Zoe recommended an awesome weekend trip to London, as as per usual, she was spot on. We decided to surprise the little girls with a trip to Harry Potter’s World and LegoLand. At the time, we had just started reading the first HP book and the girls were completely enthralled with it, so we knew they would be excited for such a trip. We waited until the night before we left to tell them where we were going. I thought the beds were going to break they jumping up and down so hard. Going to sleep that night was a bit of a challenge, but they managed to nod off eventually.
With no school on Friday, we jumped aboard our Aer Lingus flight to London. We seemed to be sitting at the gate for a bit longer than usual, when aboard the plane comes a group of well-dressed folks who sat in the front two rows. At first I thought they were air captains who maybe partied a little too hard the night before and were running late, but as it turns out, it was the President of Ireland, his wife and their entourage. We had no idea at first, but over the intercom they kept making reference to “Mr President, Ladies, and Gentlemen…” At one point they mentioned President Higgins and a quick Google search later we understood who was aboard. He’s a rather short man, so getting pics from 15 rows back was a bit tough (I did manage to capture part of his mostly balding head). Nonetheless, it was pretty cool to 1) share a plane with the President of our host country, and 2) know that the President is not above riding a commercial airline to go visit London.
Less than an hour after takeoff we landed in London and jumped on the Underground headed for our hotel. We were on a bit of a tight schedule to make it to Harry Potter’s World in time for our tour, so we basically checked in, dropped off our bags, and got back on the Underground. Two trains later and we were in Watford Junction. From there, we caught a shuttle to the Studio and learned that where we were headed had been the the site where all 8 HP movies had been filmed over a period of ten years. Judging by the crowd that had just been waiting to board the double-decker shuttle bus (not everyone in line was able to board) we knew this was going to be a popular destination. We arrived to see a rather sizable crowd outside waiting to get in. This place regularly sells out and even in mid-October the crowd was at full capacity.
The trains in London are prolific and, from our experience, were very efficient so we had arrived with a little time to spare. We perused the gift shop before out tour was scheduled to start, and just from looking at the merchandise, it was clear that HP is a money-making machine. The girls grabbed a magic wand and feather quill pen set each and we were off to start the tour.
The first stop is a room where they brief you on a bit of the history of the films with a full multimedia display. In the clips they show the massive crowds that gather for anything HP related. It truly is a world-wide phenomenon, the size of which I never fully grasped. From there, they move you into a movie theater where you get a short overview of all the films. After the movie, you are lead straightaway into The Great Hall of Hogwarts. The wow factor is off the charts. It’s at this point where the scale of production really starts to sink in. The hall was built to full-scale size. Each and every place setting was hand made. Every conceivable detail was meticulously crafted. Even the floor is real stone. It had to be in order to withstand the wear and tear, and 16 years later, it’s still in perfect shape.
As you gawk at all the sites of the Hall, a presenter briefs you on a few more facts that really help put things in perspective. Following this presentation, we were pretty much left on our own to explore the rest of the exhibits at our own pace. I won’t go into too many details so as not to spoil it for any of you who may decide to take on the adventure, but I will say that we spent the next 3 hours taking dozens and dozens of photos. At every turn the girls would point out things that they recognized or characters that they could recall. Lisa and I must have said “amazing” about 300 times that day (and “unbelievable” about 200). It really was all that and a bag of chips (and a pint of cider).
By the time we got on the shuttle back we were pretty pooped. The train rides seemed to go a bit quicker and before we knew it we were back at the hotel and ready to eat. We learned from the concierge that there were lots of nice restaurants in the area and a quick walk around would lead us to something nice. She did mention it might be a bit busy being that it was Friday night and all. WE were all a bit hangry so we needed to find food fast.
So we walked down to the nice Italian place that was recommended. They had nothing for us until 9:30, which wasn’t going to cut it, so we moved on. A few shops down the road, we walked past a Rolls Royce dealership. Inside were four amazing vehicles starting at no less than a quarter million GBP. We snapped a few pics then moved on. Right next door, was a Bentley dealership, again with a room full of completely amazeballs vehicles. Around the corner from that showroom was nothing less than a Bugatti dealership with a 1.7 million dollar piece of automotive artwork on display. Un-friggin-believable.
It became quite obvious that we were in one of the ritziest parts of London. Every shop on the row was as high-end as it gets, including the restaurants. Each one we walked by was filled with people dressed in the finest of attire and no empty seats to be had. Even if they could have accommodated us (which none of them could) we would have been severely underdressed. So it was back to the hotel restaurant to eat before we went crazy.
The next morning we packed up and headed back to the underground to head to LegoLand. The girls had no idea where we were going but they knew they were going to get to swim there. That was enough to get them through 2 Underground trains, an Overground train and a cab ride. When we arrived it took them a few minutes to gather where we were, but soon enough the excitement was overflowing. We checked our bags and headed into the park. LL is another hot spot and there was no shortage of crumb-snatchers running all over the place and plenty of bleary-eyed parents pushing strollers and such. I would say our girls were on the upper end of the age scale but they loved the park nonetheless. You could spend a small fortune to buy what they call Q Bots, which are fast-passes that get you to the front of the rather lengthy lines, but we didn’t pony up the bucks. At this point, we had more time than money but if we had bought them, we probably could have ridden twice as many rides. Given that the wait time to ride length ratio was about 25 to 1, it may have been worth it. Seriously, we would wait 25 minutes for a ride that in many cases was 1-2 minutes in length. But again, the girls loved it, so we just went with it.
We saved the splash-down ride for last, and good thing we did, because we all got pretty wet. We headed back to the hotel and got our first look at the room. I must say, we were pretty surprised at how cool they were. The girls had their own section with bunk beds, their own TV, and of course, Legos to play with. Lisa and I had a separate area where we could chill, so that was cool for everyone.
The girls couldn’t wait to swim, so we headed to the pool. For some reason, they put a one-hour limit on how long you can be in the pool, but honestly, that was enough. The girls splashed, played and swam for the duration, then we headed to dinner. The Bricks Restaurant is a buffet-style all-you-can-eat affair and the girls went crazy on it. Piles of food, plate after plate, and dessert to top it off. Jayli kept saying, “I’m sooo full but I want to eat more.” As her eyes were rolling back in her head and she rubbed her tummy, a loud belch came out followed by, “OH! That did it! Now I have more room! Be right back!” and off she would run to get more. I’ve never seen those two eat more. The rule was, eat what you want, but we don’t want to hear any complaints about how your stomach hurts later on. And to their credit, they followed the rule (for once) and we never heard a complaint.
The next morning they had to get in another swim session, so bright and early, we took them down. As the rules would have it, one adult HAD to be in the pool with them as they swam. Three guesses as to which of us got in, and the first two don’t count. As I sat there for the next thirty minutes, all I could think of was getting a decent cup of coffee. Soon enough we were back in the restaurant for yet another all-you-can-stuff-down-your-pie-hole adventure. Two meals of that kind of food is one too many, and Lisa and I were ready for some real food but the girls kept saying, “this is the BEST RESTAURANT EVARRRRRRR!!!” so we let them relish in their luxury. At one point, I saw some kid walk by me with a plate of no less than a dozen sausages. Nothing else, just sausages. It just cracks me up to see what parents let their kids get away with at these places.
As we were packing up, the rain was coming down pretty good. But by the time we actually checked out, it had stopped and the sun was starting to come out. We jumped in a cab and headed back towards the train station to go explore Windsor Castle, which we had seen when had arrived. Now, this part of the adventure was not on the itinerary, but man, what a cool find it turned out to be.
Windsor Castle is one of four (as we were told) places where Queen Elizabeth resides. Tourists are allowed to visit the inside of one wing and some of the grounds. The self-guided tour takes maybe a couple of hours but the sites are no less than incredible. First, it is one of the largest castles I have ever seen. It is truly a spectacular complex. But the inside, at least what is open to the visitors, is nothing less than majestic. To actually see what royal accommodations look like is mind boggling. Our opulence. Every piece, every detail, every ornamentation is the best of the best. From the tapestries to the paintings to the armored suits to the firearms to the gold-leafing, everything is as good as it gets. Unfortunately, they don’t let you take any pictures inside, but the memories are some that I will never forget. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend a visit.
We ended the trip with lunch at quaint little brasserie on a nondescript side street, just outside the castle grounds. It was a wonderful little place with delicious food in a setting that was just oh-so-European. A pint of cider (England has the best hard cider) helped to wash it all down, and soon enough we were off to the airport. A short, uneventful flight back to Dublin under a full moon put a nice feather in the cap of this trip. All in all, it was one for the books and yet another wonderful chapter in our book of living abroad.
Peace and love.