I was scheduled to fly to London on a Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, that week was when the BART employees decided to go on strike. This messed up my planned easy trip to the airport, where I normally would be able to go home after work before heading to the airport. Instead, I opted to leave from work directly and use SF Muni, Caltrain, and a temporary free shuttle to get to the airport (no issues -- it just took longer).
I was going to be the last of my friends to arrive in London (planned at around 2pm). However, I had the key to our first activity -- tickets to see "The Book of Mormon" at 7:30 pm that evening. My flight ended up landing on time (my non-stop would have been early, but they made us circle for a bit). I sped through immigration (thank you Fastrak) and found my bag already on the carousel when I reached baggage claim. Normally, I take the Heathrow Connect train into the city, but I split my hotel time on this trip, and my first hotel was going to be the Waldorf Hilton near Covent Garden. Since I had plenty of time, I decided to take the slower and cheaper Piccadilly Line Underground train since it would get me close to the hotel without having to change trains. It only took about 45 minutes once we were underway. I made it in time to have a little afternoon tea (scones, clotted cream, cakes and all) in the Executive Lounge before heading out to pick up the theatre tickets. With tickets in hand, I met up with the rest of my party at Leicester Square, and we headed to Wardour St. to a pizza bar for a quick dinner not far from the theatre.
We were quite lucky to get tickets for the show, let alone be in the stalls (orchestra) and all sitting together. For some reason, the July 4th date did not show up on a regular listing, but when you took advantage of American Express seating, a block of tickets showed up in row k that would suit us perfectly. Unfortunately, when I had tried to book them a couple of months before, the website would not let me complete the purchase. I ended up having to call the theatre directly to complete the transaction. But once that was done, we were all set with some nice seats. Upon arrival, we found out that the performance we were attending was a special event put on by The Times of London. Every seat had a little goodie bag with buttons, a notebook and a program (normally you have to pay for programs in London). Additionally, right after the show, there was going to be a question and Answer session with some of the performers, the director, and a local critic. The performance was excellent and the post-performance session was very interesting.
The next day was the only full day we all were going to be in London together. Our major activity for the day was to head out to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studios tour. We were able to all buy tickets for the 2pm time slot for that Friday afternoon. To get out to the location, we would have to take a 20-minute train ride from Euston Station out to Watford Junction (Pay-as-you-go Oyster card works and give a slight discount). We had a quick lunch at a pub right across from King's Cross-St. Pancras Station and then briskly walked to Euston Station. I looked up the train schedule before leaving the U.S. and had times and platforms printed out. While the times were correct, the platforms did not match. Initially, we boarded one train, but discovered it was the slow train and would take 45 minutes to get to our destination. That was not going to work with our time slot reservations. So we got off, found someone and asked for the fast train to Watford Junction. We were directed to the correct platform and within minutes, we were on our way.
Upon arrival, we found the double-decker bus that leaves every 15 minutes for the studio site (it's too far to walk easily). It costs GBP 2 per person round trip. At the studios, you take your confirmation letter and scan it to receive your tickets at a kiosk. When your time slot comes up, you get into a line to go in, where they let you in by groups of 40 or so. Even though we had a 2pm slot, we did not enter the actual tour until after 2:30. There is one thing to see while you wait to go in -- the under-the-staircase bedroom.
After a few minutes in the great Hall with some narration by several guides, we were then allowed to exit the room and move on to the rest of the tour to do at our own pace. The tour encompasses two large studio buildings and an outdoor court between them. They say to allow three hours to do it all, and we took about that amount of time.
There are several movie props and whole sets to see as you walk through. There are some video descriptions at some points, as well and placards and interactive screens to tell you about what you are seeing, as well as posted numbers to key into the audio/video guide for even more details.
|Family tree tapestry|
|Scale model of Hogwarts|