The song, “London Calling”, exemplifies London perfectly. It’s brash, bold, edgy yet fun and exciting! It is one of our favourite cities. Where else can you go and see movies projected onto Hampton Court Palace one evening, a musical in the West End the next day and the rosetta stone at the British Library. There is always something happening in London and we were headed there once again albeit only for a short week.
After a lovely break at home after flying from Japan, we were once again on our way. We had needed to make a stop at home to do the everyday mundane things like taxes and other jobs that are not fun but necessary. London was next on the schedule to help us get our travel legs back again. It was going to be a busy week though! Without realizing it, we had actually packed quite a few things into our one week in London, as well as a quick hop to Billund, Denmark!
Jet leg is a killer. We had planned a week in London to help us deal with the jet leg before heading on to Greece. Therefore we did not plan a whole lot the first day getting into London. Once we arrived in London and got ourselves through Customs (there is never a short line at Customs in Heathrow), we got our rental car and headed over to our hotel. I’ll only mention one thing about this hotel. The breakfast was amazing. I am not usually a breakfast person. Coffee is about all I need. However, the breakfast they had on offer made me break that habit. They had fresh eggs, made any way you wanted, beautiful, thick sausages, ham, potatoes, mushrooms, cereals, and much, much more. Breakfasts in North American hotels are horrible. I don’t understand why they can’t be more like the European ones. I get that they are free but eating microwaved sausages, powdered eggs and waffles supplied with whip cream, chocolate sauces and sprinkles on paper plates is not a good breakfast by anyones standards.
We’ve discovered that a good way to get over jet leg is to rest for about three hours and then force ourselves to wake up and do something. Then go to bed at our normal time. This system has worked for us very nicely in the past. The next day, feeling a little more refreshed and with a big breakfast in our bellies, we headed out on a simple outing. Windsor Castle is where the Queen stays when she is not at Buckingham Palace. I had never been there before but it was a nice walk from our hotel through the fields past Eton Collage. I hadn’t realized that Windsor Castle was right in the town. The pictures I had seen made it look like it was surrounded by parks. However, you walk through the town, turn a corner and suddenly the castle is right in front of you.
We had a lovely tour of the castle. The audio guides were included which gave a very nice explanation of everything we were looking at. The kids love these audio guides because they often come with a version specifically for kids. We got to tour the chapel, the main grounds and the state chambers. We also got to see a changing of the guards, brass band and all. They played a lovely collage of songs from Mary Poppins though it wasn’t quite as impressive as the Swedish guards playing “Hooked on a Feeling” while sitting on horses last year in Stockholm! It was a perfect activity for a quick outing that wasn’t too tiring.
Did I mention that we were in London to get over jet leg before moving on? Well, things didn’t quite work out that way. The day after arriving in London, Liam and I headed once more to the airport to fly to Denmark. Deanne had given Liam and me a day trip to Denmark to see the new Lego House as a birthday gift. So, after getting back from Windsor Castle, Liam and I packed up a few items and headed out to Stanstead Airport. Thankfully, Deanne had booked us an airport hotel as it was an early flight out.
After a pleasent flight on Ryanair (when they say budget, they mean budget), we arrived in the small town of Billund, Denmark. It felt crazy to suddenly be in a completely different country and only for a day! After getting through customs (two guys in a box right outside the passageway leading from the plane), Liam and I walked out of the airport and trekked our way over to the Lego House. There was a marked path right from the airport to the Lego House, which I thought was crazy. How many times do you see marked walking paths outside an airport? It was a very nice walk and about 45 mins later, we were standing in front of the Lego House!
The Lego House was completed in 2017 just after we had completed our trip to Scandinavia. It was built for children to explore creativity using LEGO. It’s very different from the Legolands which are more about rides, etc. First of all, it is much smaller in size being more like a small office building built as if to resemble LEGO bricks stacked on top of each other. Secondly, it is arranged to focus on different creative activities that are self-directed with themes. These themes included an area for movie-making, building creatures, exploring different ways to code machines to do tasks and more. Walking into the building, Liam and I got our wristbands which did a number of things including recording the various lego builds we made and videos we created online to access later.
We started at the very top of the building climbing the central staircase that spiraled around the huge tree of creativity built entirely of LEGO. Each branch had a different theme of lego on it celebrating all the different sets created over the years. At the very top of the stairs was the MOC display room with three huge dinosaurs in the middle. The sets around the outside of the room were built by adult lego builders from around the world. After exploring the top room, Liam and I went from room to room doing all the different activities and building lots of sets. Our favorite parts were exploring the huge lego worlds built by the lego designers, creating our own lego movie with minifigs and miniture cameras and coding arctic machines to move around a large arctic tundra digging minifigs out of the ice. All the acitivities were great fun and, due to the time of the year, the house was not that busy so Liam and I were able to go from activity to activity without having to wait very long.
One of our other favourite activities was having lunch at the MiniChef Cafe. Each table has it’s own computer display and packs of lego. Using the menu guide, you build stacks of lego that correspond to the food items you want. Then you move the lego creation onto a tray, plug the tray into the computer and it sends your order to the kitchen! Once your order is made, it gets sent out on a track and two huge minifig robots push it out to you. Its a really cool system that worked really well. The food was actually quite good and the system forced Liam to pick a well balanced meal. He tried to order two potato items but it forced him to try again. We really enjoyed the meal process. It was a lot of fun and something we had been looking forward to doing.
Another neat feature was the gift you got on the way out. There is a huge lego machine actually building lego from scratch. When you place your wristband in the machine, you get a personalized card with model of red bricks on it. At the machine, you pick up a bag of red bricks and together with the personalized card, you have directions and bricks to build your own personal stack of bricks. The bag comes with 6 red bricks which can be arranged in millions of different ways. It was a very neat parting gift.
Liam and I spent the entire day there right up until closing. After closing, we headed back towards the airport making a quick detour to see the Miniland at the Billund Legoland that is the other attraction in Billund. We didn’t spend too much time there as we could only wander around the models. Arriving at the airport soon after, we waited for quite awhile for our flight to be called and got back to Stanstead very late. It was a long day but Liam and I had so much fun. There were so many different ways to play with the LEGO, there was hardly any lines, the lunch was fun and efficient and there was lots to explore. You couldn’t make a week out of it but a day or two was certainly doable. Liam and I kept laughing at how funny it was to be able to fly from London to a completely different country across Europe in just an hour and a half just to do a day trip to the Lego House. it was a great bonding time for Liam and I. We were pretty knackered by the time we got back to the hotel room though, still not having recovered from jet leg.
Following a much needed sleep-in, we were trying to think of an activity that was close by, interesting but not too taxing. Deanne mentioned that Oxford was only about an hour away and I jumped at the suggestion.
Oxford is one of my favorite places to go. I love the town steeped in traditions, old buildings, beautiful churches and old pubs. I had been there two times previously, when my good friend Kevin attended college there. I had had a wonderful time. It was really only my second time traveling on my own that far. So it was comforting and reassuring to be doing it with someone I know at the other end. While I didn’t get to go to any of the classes, we did do lunch in the main hall of his college where I had to wear a gown to attend. We also went for fish and chips and for a drink at the pub where Tolkein and CS Lewis once met for drinks. My favorite memories are being allowed to sing in his chapel choir (the music we sang was so beautiful but not easy!) and having one of his friends take us on a tour of the Magdelan College bell tower. So I had many fond memories of Oxford to refer to on our way.
Parking is never easy there but we did managed to find a spot near all the sights. We spend some time wandering through the square near Bodelein Library, we saw the room where they filmed the dance lessons in Harry Potter and we had lunch at the hidden pub tucked down a tiny alley near the main square. Following lunch we headed over to my friend’s former college. Luckily, visitors were allowed and we spent some time wandering around the main quad and into the chapel where we had sung the beautiful polyphony of Tallis and Byrd. Finally, we went through the very eclectic Ashburton Museum with it’s stuffed Dodo and other odds and ends. It was a fun day and even the kids were impressed by the sights and sounds of Oxford.
Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour
One of the big events we had booked was a day at the Warner Bros. Harry Potter studio tour. We all loved the books and movies and we had heard lots of great things about the studio tour. I was also looking forward to this as I love anything to do with behind the scenes things in movies, tv shows or anything else. The kids were also very excited and we got there early for our time slot. The visit did not disappoint. It was so well done with all the props, costumes and sets combining to create a magical experience. We wandered happily from one thing to the next, from gazing inside the Gryffindor common room to wandering through the forbidden forest. We had a great time wandering around all the different areas. We also got to see the newest addition to the attraction which was the set from the bank. After wandering through, we found ourselves in this one spot where a dragon burst through the walls and spewed fire and smoke at you. It was all on a big screen but the whole set looked so realistic, I thought at first that it was actually a huge mechanical dragon! However, I have to say that my favorite part was at the end where you got the chance to see the huge model of Hogwarts that was built for the closeups. It was absolutely breathtaking in scale and detail! The kids enjoyed the forbidden forest and looking at all the wands at the gift shop. It was an incredibly fun day and time went past very quickly.
Our final day in London was finally here and we headed into the main part of London to celebrate. It’s funny. Even though we were in London, we were staying near one of the airports which was actually quite a ways out of London. London is so huge though that we were still in London. To get to the main part of London, though, we had to take a fairly long train ride. It was going to be a quick day but we still managed to get quite a bit in. We started by going to the British Museum for a quick wander past the Rosetta stone and through the Egyptian antiquities. We also made a brief stop to see the reliefs from the Parthenon as we knew we were going to be there fairly soon. We had lunch at the Cheshire Cheese Pub, which is reputed to be one of the oldest pubs in London where people like Charles Dickins went. We followed that up with a stop at the Leicester Square Lego store. This is probably one of the better LEGO stores we had been too with some interesting lego items exclusive to the store and some neat displays. Finally, we headed over to St. Pauls cathedral to hear evensong. Even though it was a guest choir singing, the music was still beautiful echoing through the vaulted ceilings of that great old church. We weren’t done with London though. We had tickets to see a West End show!
Now, the West End of London does not give me quite the same thrill as Broadway does but the shows there are just as amazing as anything you will see on Broadway. We had tickets to see Matilda, which the kids were really looking forward to. We got in and found our seat with no problems and they were actually very good seats with no one sitting in front of us. The very front of the stage was a little obscured but it didn’t restrict our view too badly so it wasn’t an issue. In these theatres, there are no really bad seats. It’s just a matter of how close you want to be. The seats are raked at such an angle, you don’t usually have to worry about not being able to see. I remember seeing one show in London, By Jeeves, where there was so little leg room, I had to slide my bag under my seat as I was sitting down. Once I was sitting I couldn’t get it under the seat. The theatre was so small that they wouldn’t take my bag at the cloakroom as it was basically just a closet. We had slightly more room at this performance, which was nice.
We loved the performance. As I said before, the West End is just as amazing in their shows and performances as anything you will see on Broadway. The actors were amazing and the music was so well done. Even though Matilda has been going for awhile, you could not tell that from the performances. It was excellent and the kids loved it. They talked about it for days afterward.
However, we were also sad at the end of the performance as our time in London was at an end. We were heading to Greece the next day. We were mollified somewhat by the fact that we would be back in July for a longer stint. Liam has frequently said that London was his favorite city so Deanne and I were glad knowing that we would be able to end our year’s journey on a happy note. We can’t believe that our year is almost done. Only three more months to go. This experience has blown by so quickly. However, we have told ourselves that we are not going to think about that. Greece awaits us!