UK: Day Six

Day Six:

June 20, 2013

4 Privet Drive
4 Privet Drive
Mmmm... Butterbeer!
Mmmm… Butterbeer!
Hogwarts Great Hall - WOW!
Hogwarts Great Hall – WOW!

Jeff didn’t sleep well last night worrying about picking up the car and then having to drive it. He was out the door by seven to come back and sweep us out of our London home by 8. We pulled away from the curb right on schedule, headed 20 miles north to Leavesden for the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour. Using my Port Orchard traffic math skills, I estimated that it would take around a half an hour to make it to our scheduled 10 am arrival time. Good thing Jeff had the foresight to leave early, because it took us one hour and twenty minutes to get to the “freeway” on the north side of town (8 miles). We made it to the studio with two minutes to spare. The studio was fantastic. There was something for all of us to enjoy, from the actual sets (indoor and outdoor) used in the movies to props and costumes. There were also exhibits on costumes and wigs, prop dressing, special effects, visual effects, art conception and (the piece de resistance) the room-sized scale model of Hogwarts that was used in all of the flyover scenes of the castle. We even got to sample some butterbeer! No wonder Hermione always wanted to head to the Three Broomsticks . It was de-lish!

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Kiki sitting at Roald Dahl’s writing desk.

From Leavesden, we travelled northwest for Great Missenden to visit the quaint but entertaining and informative Roald Dahl Museum. I enjoyed reading all about one of my favorite children’s author and the kids enjoyed the interactive exhibits. The town was adorable too, situated in the Chiltern Hills of Hertfordshire. We hadn’t had a meal yet, so we stopped in a local sweets shop and then hit the road for Oxford. After checking into the hotel and eating a proper meal we set out to find a “laundrette.” Jeff drove me in to Oxford and dropped me at the place the hotel suggested. Aaarrrgghh. There was no change machine so I schlepped all four bags of laundry to what I though was the bank, but turned out to be the sports book with a bunch of guys smoking cigars and watching a wall of TVs. After sorting the clothes and stuffing them into the machines, I discovered that the soap vending machine was out of order. I started the washers and ran across the street for soap and fabric softener but by the time I got back the cycles had finished. Oh, well. I was alone for an hour and that’s worth something. The serial killer that I kept expecting to arrive never did, so it’s all good. I now have a renewed thankfulness for my washer and dryer at home.

Fantastic Mr. Fox!
Fantastic Mr. Fox!

Today was quite the adventure in the driving department. Jeff likened it it to “driving down the McGee’s driveway with 2-way traffic at 70 mph.” I think it was more “life-sized” Autopia with oncoming traffic, no bumper bars and some massive trucks thrown in (but only on blind corners). We dubbed it Grand Torrismo UK. There were lots of things thrown in for difficulty: NO stop signs- only traffic circles (lots of traffic circles), tractors, two way streets that are (Jeff’s words) “1.3 lanes wide,” pedestrians and cyclists with no indication that they are aware of any traffic, hedges or trees right up to the edge of the road so that it seems like you are in the bottom of a hole or a never-ending tunnel, obscure street names and non-existent road signs. It was terrifying and comical at the same time.

All in all: another great day in Britain! ūüėČ

 

 

UK: Day Four

Day Four:

June 18, 2013

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace

We got up early today and rode the tube across town to get on the “hop-on hop-off” tour around the town. We got on by Buckingham Palace with the intention of riding the entire loop and arriving back at Buckingham Palace for the “changing of the guard.”

The bus tour took us around all of central London and had an interesting commentary on many landmarks. ¬†The kids enjoyed the special kids commentary, which kept them entertained about 90% of the time. Traffic was fairly heavy today, so we didn’t make it the around the entire loop before we abandoned the bus and hot footed off to Buckingham Palace to try to catch the changing of the guard. I think that is where all of the tourists in town were at that given moment. We didn’t make it up against the gates to see them handing off the keys, but we did see the band and horses and marching foot guards with their big black “bearskin” hats. From there we went on a wild goose chase (not literally) for lunch and then headed for Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey

The girls enjoyed a scavenger hunt for trivia question answers with the promise of a free chocolate coin prize if they completed the questions.  (They did it!) We were even able to borrow monk costumes for the girls to wear for some photo ops in the abbey gardens and cloisters. My favorite part was the tomb where Queen Elizabeth I was buried with her half-sister (and rival) Queen Mary. From Westminster we decided to head back to the hotel for a little downtime in the room and some dinner at the hotel. After some rest, we walked up to the West End to take in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Royal Drury Theatre. It was FABULOUS!!!  Both girls loved it (maybe even as much as Jeff and I).charlie and choc factory

UK: Day Three

View from of London from the "golden gallery" at the top of St. Paul's Cathedral
View from of London from the “golden gallery” St. Paul’s Cathedral

Day Three:

June 17, 2013

I woke up around 4:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I spent a few hours uploading photos and planning out another “death march” (Jeff’s words). After everyone finally woke up (around 9) we got dressed and stopped into Starbucks for breakfast. We decided to check out the neighborhood where we are staying by taking a walk around. We are staying in the City of London, which is a smaller district of Greater London. Read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_London

Just up the street is Temple Church, a church that dates back to the 12th century. It is surrounded by the Inns of Court, the professional associations for barristers (attorneys) in Wales and England. We wandered through the area, which is like a little village where barristers work and law students live and attend classes. ¬†After Temple Church, we continued our walk along Fleet Street where we saw several landmarks including the Royal Courts of Justice, the Temple Bar Monument and St. Bride’s Church.

About mid-day, we arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s is where Charles and Diana got married in 1981. We wandered the church – which is huge and intricate at the same time. ¬†We climbed 257 steps from the cathedral floor to the “whispering gallery” at the interior of the base of the huge dome and then another 119 to the stone gallery. There we could go outside to take in the views of the city. Just when we thought we could not climb another stair, we found the cubby hole to a stairway that led another 152 steps to the “golden gallery,” a tiny balcony ledge surrounding the exterior of the dome crown on the outside. Kiki didn’t enjoy the “see through” stairs, but we all made it up (and back down again). ¬†St. Paul’s was fantastic but exhausting, so we wandered next door to Paternoster Square and grabbed some take-out lunch.

Beefeater
Beefeater

After lunch, we hopped on the tube to the Tower of London. We spent a few hours exploring the 16 acre grounds and the various buildings. ¬†The Tower of London is a historic castle that dates back to the Norman conquest. ¬†It has been used for many things over the centuries, most notably a prison. ¬†Queen Elizabeth I was imprisoned here by her Catholic half-sister Queen “Bloody Mary” I before she ascended to the throne. ¬†It is also home (literally) to the beloved Beefeater guards.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

The Tower of London is also where the Crown Jewels of England have been stored for safe keeping since they were stolen and then recovered from Westminster Abbey in 1303. ¬†The line for the Crown Jewels was too long to get us in before closing time, so Jeff offered to show us his instead. ¬†We took a pass on “Jeffs Jewels” and tried to catch the Tower Bridge “experience” which allows you to go out on the upper level of the bridge. ¬†We arrived just as they shut and locked the door. That was a good sign that we needed to end the day, so we hopped the tube back to our local station and had some dinner in a neighborhood pub before heading in for the night.

(Kiki’s estimate of stairs climbed today- 900 million. Up AND down.)

UK: Day One

Look Left

Day One:

June 15, 2013

Our flights went off without a hitch.  We had heard about delays due to security at the airport, so we arrived with plenty of time to spare. My plan to knock the kids (and myself) out with Melatonin did not go as planned so by the time we had arrived in London, (10 hours flying and 1 hour layover in Reykjavik)  Kai and I were going on almost no sleep.

Platform 9 3/4
Platform 9 3/4

We arrived in London on Saturday just in time for the annual Trooping the Colours celebrations for the Queen (to celebrate her April birthday). We missed the parades and pageantry but we did get to see the flyovers by several RAF aircraft and (I think) the queen in her helicopter with two escorts. It was pretty neat to see the planes, but was a bit unnerving until we realized it was a celebration and London was not under attack.

After weaving all through London because of road closures due to the celebration, we made it to our hotel and checked in. After a bit of rest (but still no sleep for Kai or me) and some dinner at our hotel restaurant, we wandered out to explore. We stumbled upon a nice walking path along the South Bank. It was robust with Saturday evening happenings, which we enjoyed taking in. Our walk landed us in Trafalgar Square near a tube station, so we hopped aboard for an adventure to find Kings Cross Station and platform 9 3/4. There was an official queue and shop selling souvenirs, so the girls took advantage of the props for a fun photo op. By 9:30 we were all ready to crash, so we headed back to the room and crashed hard.

 

Germany: Day Fifteen

Marx & Engels in Berlin
Marx & Engels in Berlin

Royale with CheeseDay 15: Our last day in Germany had us taking in a few more sights in Berlin. First, we walked a few blocks to Fassbender & Rausch, a chocolate shop that has scale-sized chocolate models of the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag and the Titanic, along with an enormous erupting chocolate volcano. We picked up some treats and took the U- Bahn to Alexanderplatz to hop on an hour-long boat trip on the Spree river through Berlin. After cruising we visited the captivating DDR Museum (Deutsche Demokratische Republik aka East Germany). It was an interactive museum that explained many aspects of life in East Berlin between 1961 and 1989. I enjoyed it very much. After a quick spin around “Museum Island” we headed back to the hotel for more pool time, another dinner in and the process of cramming all of our stuff back into our suitcases. We were all exhausted and ready to head home. I was¬†especially thankful that my one and only blister waited until the last day¬†to arrive. I was also¬†very glad¬†that our trip home did¬†not involve a lot of walking (and NO¬†detour through Norway).

Germany: Day Fourteen

Berlin Zoo
Berlin Zoo

Day 14: The kids are starting to ask when we get to go home. Luckily, today was¬†a kid-centered day at the Berlin Zoo. We took¬†an above ground train (U-Bahn) and an underground train (S-Bahn) and followed the signs to the zoo. Overall, it was nice. Large with over 19,000 animals. Many of the enclosures make it seem like there is no division between you and the animals. That’s pretty cool. There seem to be no maps so we wander and see lots of interesting animals, including Bao Bao the panda. We happen to catch feeding time in the nocturnal house and lunch preparation for the carnivores (yuck) including rats, chicks and giant slabs of meat. (The guy wasn’t even wearing gloves. Blech.) After that, it’s time for lunch (stuffed pepper with rice) more animals and, of course, the speilplatz (playground). There seems to be a playground just about everywhere. From the zoo, we head a few blocks down the street to Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) the largest department store in Germany. It’s six floors of designer everything, including one whole floor of gourmet food with several fancy food stations (even a champagne bar!). The top floor is a super fancy cafeteria style restaurant. We had some coffee and desserts, but as far as the store is concerned, the only thing we could afford was the free Wi-Fi. We walked up West Berlin’s trendy shopping street, Tauentzienstrasse in a last ditch effort to find “Berlin” Starbuck’s mugs for my collection (no luck) and then train back to the hotel for another dinner, pool time and bed. One more day to go…

Germany: Day Thirteen

The placement of the former Berlin Wall is marked on the ground throughout the city.
The placement of the former Berlin Wall is marked on the ground throughout the city.
The Glass-domed Reichstag
The Glass-domed Reichstag

Day 13: Breakfast in hotel and then Jeff is off to the Checkpoint Charlie museum and Topography of Terror exhibit in the old Gestapo headquarters. The girls and I head to Potsdamer Platz, once one of the busiest intersections in Europe, but left a wasteland during the Cold War because of the Berlin Wall. It is now a busy hub for transit, shopping and business. Somewhere along the way we took Panoramapunkt, “Europe’s Fastest Elevator” up twenty four floors in 20 seconds. ¬†At the top we took in an outstanding 360 degree view of Berlin.¬†¬†Through Potsdamer Platz we followed the line on the sidewalk that signified where the Berlin Wall once stood and saw some of the segments of the old wall. I read the historical information while trying to keep the girls from running into the street.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

At the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe we listened in on a tour group. (I’ve found that is a good way to get information that is a bit more in-depth than the guidebook.) The memorial is a poignant tribute to Jewish victims of the holocaust. It consists of 2,711 pillars organized over an area about as big as a city block. To me, it seemed like a cemetery, but the meaning is left to individuals to interpret. ¬†We finally met up with Jeff at the Brandenburg Gate, built in 1791, it is one of the original gates in Berlin’s old city wall and once separated Prussia from Brandenburg. It sat unused for 25 years, another victim of the Cold War’s Berlin Wall.

Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate

We mingled about Pariser Platz directly adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate, also part of the no-man’s land created by the wall, but now a busy tourist spot and home to the US, French, British and Russian embassies. We found out too late that we needed to request reservations to the popular Reichstag (parliament building), with it’s notorious glass dome, so we took pictures from outside. The glass dome was built in 1999 to replace the original dome that was set on fire during WWII. The building was not used between 1933 and 1999. From the Reichstag we followed the Unter Den Linden (the main drag) through the heart of former East Berlin, across the Spree river and on to Alexanderplatz just beyond the TV Tower (very, very similar to the Pearl Tower in Shanghai). In Alexanderplatz we stopped in the Galeria Kaufhof department store (with a full gourmet grocery store on the main level) and picked up some food to cook for breakfast and dinner. Exhausted, we took¬†a stab at the underground train and get back to the hotel without a hitch. Berlin is a fabulous city, much different than the Bavarian cities and towns we have visited thus far, but still fascinating in its own right. I’m glad we’ve got a few more days to explore.