London: 48 Hours of English (!)

I had forgotten how much I like London. The history, the culture, the pubs, the red double-decker buses… It’s such a fun city. It was also the first English-speaking city I’ve visited in nearly six months, and thus the first place in nearly six months that I could understand everything going on around me. In fact, a funny thing happened when we landed at Gatwick airport on Friday night. After waiting an hour and a half to go through the security line for non-EU or UK passport holders (blah), we made it to the food court and, ravenous, stopped at Costa to grab sandwiches. The cashier asked if I would like mine toasted, and Gui turned to me and asked if I would like it toasted. Then the cashier asked if we’d like to eat the food there or take it with us, and Gui turned to me and repeated the same question. That’s when I realized what was going on. “Gui,” I said, “he’s speaking English…” My adorable husband was translating for me (or so he thought). We had a good laugh, and the guy looked at us like we were a little crazy.

So 48 hours is not anywhere close to enough time to see London’s big sites, but that wasn’t our goal this visit. We planned our quick weekend trip to coincide with a trip our friends were making from the states for a wedding, and also wanted to hang out with Gui’s cousin and other friends who live in the city. We started off with a Saturday brunch with our American friends and spent a lovely morning catching up over tasty, veggie-filled food at Grain Store by Kings Cross. Afterward, we met Guillaume’s cousin at the British Museum and made a circuit through the exhibits to see the highlights. My personal favorites were the moai from Easter Island and the Rosetta Stone (the writing is so tiny!), but the museum is filled with remarkable pieces of history. Definitely worth a visit.

A few hours later, we took an Uber over to Parliament to see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, and then walked down to Buckingham Palace. Yes, the guards still wear the big black fur hats in the summer, if you were wondering. Speaking of, we got lucky with the weather — it was in the mid-70s and sunny the whole weekend, unusual for London — so walking around was a pleasure. Afterward, we headed over to Dishoom in Covent Garden for some trendy Indian food. Based on the giant lines that are apparently a staple at all of the restaurant’s locations, Dishoom is clearly the “it” place right now. Gui’s cousin had been itching to try it and we waited in line outside for 45-minutes to get in (see photo below), powered by free lemonade and chai tea brought to the queue on trays. Once inside, the food was pretty delicious, but I don’t think I would have patience for that kind of wait on a regular basis. I tried the vegetable samosas, veggie biryani, dal, garlic naan and a mango lassi and liked all of it, but would specifically recommend the dal, which was delightfully buttery. My dream of riding on one of the double-decker buses finally came true after dinner, albeit for about five minutes, as we made our way toward Bond Street to meet our local friends for drinks. We started at a wine bar and ended the night at a pub before heading back to Gui’s cousin’s apartment, where we were generously hosted for the weekend.

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Sunday was pretty much monopolized by our last-minute decision to sign up for a tour of Warner Bros. studio to see how they made the eight Harry Potter films. We took a bus from Victoria station out to the studio — about a 30-minute ride for us, but apparently we lucked out with traffic — and then had four hours to explore. When we booked the tour, we were told we would only have three hours, but we definitely would have run out of time so the extension was a blessing. Even if you’re not a huge Harry Potter fan, I bet you’d find it pretty interesting. The beginning reminded me of the rides at Universal Studios in Florida: Everyone lines up in front of the entrance and then they let a certain amount of people into an initial room for an introduction with a peppy staffer and a short video. Then your group moves into a theater to watch a short film featuring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. The theater leads out into the set of the Great Hall, and then you take the rest of the tour at your own speed (complete with the opportunity to buy a mug of butterbeer of course). They do a really great job explaining how they created everything from the quidditch scenes to the magical creatures, and you can actually walk onto the sets from key parts of the movies, from Privet Drive and Diagon Alley, to Dumbledore’s office and the Hogwarts Express. You pick up so many cool tidbits – like did you know some scenes with Hagrid are actually a mechanical head on a guy wearing stilts?! – but I’ll leave the rest for you to discover if you make it out there. And funny enough, some of the parts of the films that I assumed were CGI were actually built and wired to move by the crew. It’s all very impressive.

After the tour, we met Gui’s cousin and our friends from the states and hung out at a park before hopping on the Gatwick Express for our flight back to Geneva. We’re planning a longer trip for next summer, and perhaps another short trip before then. Here are some more photos to hold you over in the meantime. Cheerio!

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