The scenery from Edinburgh on south was gorgeous. The train went quite near the Firth and North Sea for a good part of the trip, so we had wonderful views of the ocean, crashing waves, green fields, sheep, church steeples, etc. We went through a couple rain storms, saw some rainbows, and enjoyed being able to relax instead of driving.
We arrived in London and immediately asked about Platform 9 ¾. For those who haven’t read the books, this features prominently in the Harry Potter book series. The students attending Hogwarts school are supposed to be able to just go right through the wall with their luggage carts. I had read that it had been relocated because of construction, but we found it exactly where it was supposed to be. Carter and I tried, but we must be quite mugglish, because it didn’t work.
|At Platform 9 3/4 from Harry Potter|
We caught the tube to our hotel, and of course Carter was in heaven getting to add a new city’s subway system to his checklist! Our hotel was quite posh, but we didn’t discover this at first. Trying to check in, we were expecting our room to be taken care of because this was what we were told, however there was a little mix-up. When we got up to our room, we found only one (double?) bed (for the four of us). The hotel management was wonderful in doing their best to try to get us into a proper room. Once it was all worked out (with most of the other Fulbright teachers having problems as well), we were quite happy with a king bed and fold out sofa.
Jim departed with a large group of other US Fulbright teachers to head to the embassy for a discussion session with returning UK exchanges, so the kids and I headed down the street to Trafalgar Square. Cara and Carter were quite enamored with the lion statues.
|In Trafalgar Square|
|There's a lion behind you!|
After we got all dressed up, the three of us met two other Fulbright families and ventured out to the embassy as well. We were greeted at the side entrance to the Embassy, because there were protests occurring out front, and we felt secure as well as intimidated with the machine guns that some of the guards were carrying. After going through security, there was a nice reception held inside with drinks and appetizers. Our reception room was full of Minister/Ambassador paintings as well as a list of each person with dates served. Jim and I were surprised to find a listing for Walter Hines Page, for whom Page High School in Greensboro is named. It was really nice to be able to visit with other teachers, families, as well as Embassy and Fulbright personnel. By the time we left the reception at 7 pm, both of our kids were starving (since the appetizers weren’t quite to their taste). After getting some food in them, they both perked up and were ready to go.
|Jim & Cara at the Horse Guards grounds|
Saturday was a day of fun and getting the kids acquainted with the city. We went for a walk right after breakfast, down to Trafalgar Square, past 10 Downing Street, the Horse Guards grounds, Big Ben, and along the Thames River with views of the London Eye!
|We want to ride the London Eye|
We also did a little shopping and were hoping to find a Japanese food store that carried a few food items we’ve been missing. After checking out of our hotel, we went back to try to see Changing the Guards at Buckingham Palace, but it looked as though you had to get a good spot about an hour earlier, because we were only able to see one of the marching bands go by and couldn’t get anywhere near the Palace gates.
|Parade toward Buckingham Palace|
Next we headed to Borough Market which is an amazing farmer’s/foodie market south of the river. We each got to pick something special to eat, but will have to go back and find the elusive grilled cheese sandwich that we’ve heard about in the past.
After checking into another hotel which was really close to the Tower of London, Jim and Carter took the tube to watch their first EPL football match of West Ham vs. Sunderland. Cara and I ventured out across town in search of Hamley’s. Hamley’s is a 6 floor toy store on Regent’s Street, and Hello Kitty was supposed to be making a special appearance. We found Hello Kitty and Cara enjoyed spending time looking at all the amazing shopping possibilities. She ended up choosing to get her first ever British Build-a-Bear, a blue, sparkly bunny in a stylish purple outfit with matching boots. We made one other stop at M&M’s world in Leicester Square before heading back on a circuitous tube route to our hotel. We found the tube line we wanted to take was shut down, so we had to improvise. We arrived back at the hotel just minutes before the guys and then headed to Wagamama’s for dinner.
Sticky rice – yuuuuuuuuuuuuuuummm! Our restaurant served Japanese style food as was enjoyed by each of us. After dinner we took a short walk past the Tower of London to see the Tower Bridge lit up at night.
|Nighttime view of the Tower Bridge|
Sunday morning we were up and out early (before any sights were open), so we strolled along the Thames and walked across the lower pedestrian part of the Tower Bridge. We could see the beautiful city skyline from the center of the bridge.
|View from bridge of the Tower of London & the Gherkin|
We debated about looking at the Tower Bridge exhibition or just riding a city bus around, but since our hotel tube stop was closed for the day and the busses in the area weren't running due to a bicycle race and marathon, we headed back to check out the bridge exhibition.
There were a couple of entertaining movies about the planning and execution of the bridge. We also were able to walk along the upper deck of the Tower Bridge. There was a kids Olympics quiz and a few games along the route as well as a pictorial and informational display about the history of the Olympics. Nearing the end of the tour, we walked through the engine rooms with the enormous green steam engines. The whole bridge looked like it had been refurbished & repainted recently & was definitely worth the visit.
|Steam Engine in the Tower Bridge|
Because of the transportation difficulties, we checked out of our hotel earlier and trekked up several streets to an open tube stop and made our way back to King's Cross Station to catch our train home.
|King's Cross train station|
|Cool architecture in the station|